The TikTok Dilemma

The North American House of Representatives recently voted for the TikTok app, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, with 150 million users in the United States, to be banned in the country, unless it is acquired by a non-Chinese company. According to oficial discourse, TikTok has access to the data of millions of users, and constitutes a threat to national security. However, according to an article published by Scientific American magazine on March 22, there is no concrete evidence of data being shared with the Chinese government.

The magazine interviewed Calli Schroeder, from the non-profit organization Electronic Privacy Information Center, focused on topics related to digital privacy and freedom of expression. The senior council stated that the US government’s measures do not present concrete results, since it does not address the roots of the problem. It is a political strategy to demonstrate to the population that the government is seeking effective solutions. However, sharing personal information is not a practice exclusive to TikTok, being commonly adopted by different apps and social networks.

The approval of the resolution by the Senate will face challenges related to the regulatory autonomy of the States, and the overlap with the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of expression. There are still uncertainties regarding the capacity for federal and/or state intervention to ban access to apps installed on private cell phones.

According to an article published in The New York Times on March 12, measures to restrict TikTok are also being adopted in Canada and European countries. The restrictions on access to TikTok do not only refer to the possible sharing of user data with the Chinese government, but also the use of the platform to disseminate misinformation. Another argument against TikTok makes reference to what happened in 2022 when the personal information of two North American journalists who used the app was leaked. According to representatives of the company ByteDance, the irregular obtaining of information was the responsibility of company employees, who acted autonomously.

In Portugal, according to an article published on March 24 by the newspaper Expresso, TikTok is the seventh most used app in the world, including 125 million users in the European Community, and 2.83 million in Portugal. To date, there is no official position from the Portuguese government regarding possible restrictions on TikTok. The Constitution of Portugal, similar to the United States, forbids interventions against civil rights, except in cases where there are security risks. There is still no clarity regarding developments in the country

In India, for example, the country banned access to TikTok in 2020, including 59 other Chinese apps. In the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France and New Zealand, use of the app has been banned from official devices. The use of TikTok as a tool for discussing cybersecurity also concerns the geopolitical game in which the Chinese government does not allow non-Chinese apps to be used in the country, implying a one-way street, that is, while Chinese apps are used around the world, internally there is no permission to use North American or European apps, among other countries.

Meanwhile TikTok’s dilemma continues, and with no easy solution in the foreseeable future.  

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