With it being an election year and all, I expected a lot of craziness in 2020. I did not expect politics to somehow get entangled with an app known for lip syncing and dancing.
Recently, President Donald Trump and his administration have gotten involved with probably the hottest app out there, TikTok.
The social media app, which consists of people posting videos from comedy skits to dance routines to pets, is the spiritual successor to the micro-video app, Vine, where people can show off their talents in a limited amount of time, allowing the viewer to lose themselves in the app for hours. In the time of mass quarantine, it exploded in popularity, being downloaded 623 million times during the first six months of 2020.
The sticking point, at least for Trump’s people, TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a tech company in Beijing whose agreement includes mining data from social media as well as collecting data on its users from third-party sources, with fears it will be sold to the Chinese Communist Party. To note, TikTok execs have countered, saying their users’ data are stored on servers in Singapore, out of reach of the Chinese government.
The beef between TikTok and Trump has been growing for months, with users reportedly sabotaging his Tulsa rally by inflating the number of seats reserved for the event, as well Trump’s general dislike for anything related to China. The controversy came to an apex on Aug. 6 when Trump issued an executive order calling for a complete halt to all U.S. transactions with TikTok’s parent company by Sept. 20. The administration said the reason was because it viewed TikTok, as well as several other Chinese-owned apps like WeChat, as a national security threat.
The move is odd for several reasons, one of which being that the most powerful man in the U.S. is going after an app made popular by teens. But furthermore, there’s the fact that what TikTok is supposedly doing is the same thing every social media already does. From Facebook to Twitter to Google Maps, they’re all collecting your data, from personal information you give up to your current location, so they can sell it to someone else. Yet there are no executive orders for these companies.
To quote Russell Brandom of The Verge: “The White House has presented no evidence showing improper data collection by TikTok or exceptional ties between ByteDance (WeChat’s owner) and the Chinese government. If anything, we’ve seen the opposite: a recent CIA assessment obtained by The New York Times found no evidence that the app had been used by Chinese spy agencies to intercept data.”
It seems like this beef is personal, legally dubious and frankly, strange, especially during a pandemic. If the kids want to dance on app, let them do it or come down on all apps selling our data. Their should be no picking and choosing here.