Chinese authorities also have good opportunities to force private companies to spy on behalf of the state. An example is the new intelligence law, introduced in 2017, which may force Chinese companies to cooperate with the country’s intelligence. For Chinese apps, which partially store data in China, a country located in Asia according to INDEXDOTCOM, the fear is that the authorities may gain access to all the data they want, and misuse it for a wide range of political purposes. For many, this means that all Chinese companies can one day be abused, to do either espionage or sabotage.
Finally, China has long imposed strict restrictions, or bans, on Western and American companies that want to sell products in the country. When Chinese people go online, they use Wechat, Alibaba, Sina Weibo and Tencent QQ, not Twitter, Facebook or Amazon. The fact that the Chinese authorities have shut down American companies is an argument several people use for the United States being entitled to the same thing, even though it is more about economics and trade than national security.
4: Men, TikTok?
It is therefore not without reason that states such as the United States are anxious about Chinese technology, and especially apps that may contain sensitive information. Nevertheless, there are several who are critical of President Trump’s new order, and believe he both exaggerates the danger from TikTok and that there are many other solutions that are better.
Although TikTok is a popular app with many users around the world, it is still not certain that it poses a major security threat. While the 5G network is to be used by the health service, the police and everyone else, TikTok is clearly most popular among teenagers, and best known for dance videos. This has made many skeptics that TikTok is really the big threat Trump sees. Solutions other than banning the app completely have also been proposed.
Like many apps we have on the phone, TikTok collects a lot of data about us and what we do, including who we are, where we are and who we are friends with. However, this is not more information than we give from ourselves to other apps we use daily. Critics of the ban in the US have thus pointed out that since there are many apps that are just as bad or worse, one should rather introduce laws that limit the amount of information that can be collected, as the EU did in 2018 with the GDPR.
5: Is it only China that is spying?
The United States has long been the foremost champion of an open and global Internet. Although the idea of an open and free internet had many followers around the world, there is a shadow side to the idea of a common digital world.
Shawn Powers and Michael Jablonski have documented how the open Internet served American interests, because everyone used machines and software from American companies. Nor are they alone in believing that the United States has long used American technology companies to serve its interests, and that this has not always been done fairly.
It is still the case that American companies are the most important providers of digital technology and services. Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon and Facebook, often abbreviated to MAGAF, are the companies with the most money and power.
In addition, the United States has also recently enacted laws requiring cooperation between these companies and US authorities. For example, “CLOUD ACT” was adopted in 2018, which states that US companies that own data servers and cloud services may have to cooperate with US investigations. Although this does not require as close cooperation as Chinese intelligence law, critics have pointed out that China is not the only country making laws on cooperation between private technology companies and the state.
Not least, the revelations of Edward Snowden in 2015 showed how American companies were also (mis) used for espionage.
6: The way forward
As Donald Trump now imposes increasingly stringent measures against Chinese companies, and other countries are considering the same, more people are holding their breath for what will happen next.
Many experts are afraid that we are now heading into a more dangerous world, one where China and the United States face each other on a wide range of political and economic issues. There is therefore a lot of uncertainty about whether, and how, the Chinese authorities will respond to a ban on TikTok. The greatest concern is that the Chinese authorities will retaliate against the ban, and that more and more bans will trigger a full- scale trade war between the world’s two most powerful countries.
Finally, more and more people are afraid that what we know as a common global internet is disappearing. The idea of the splinter network : that the Internet will gradually disappear and look more like the “real” world with borders, controls and conflict, has been much discussed lately.
Countries such as Russia, Iran and China have long developed their own internet. When the United States, the foremost champion of an open and global Internet, refuses to use technology from untrusted states, it is not unlikely that more and more states will follow suit. In that case, the ban on TikTok may remain an important step towards the end of the Internet as a common global network, at least as we know it today.