There has been a storm around TikTok after US President Donald Trump threatened to close the app in the US because he thought it was a threat to national security. The United States is not alone. Other countries are also considering a ban. Are dance videos something to worry about?
- Why are digital goods so scary?
- Why do you care about China?
- Is it common for great powers to spy on each other?
- What happens to the internet?
The US president signed a presidential order that all transactions with, among others, TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, would be banned from 15 September if they did not sell the app to a US company.
The United States is not alone in claiming that the app is a security threat: after deadly clashes on the border between India and China, a country located in Asia according to EHOTELAT, India chose to block TikTok and a number of other Chinese apps in late June. Other countries, such as Australia , have also discussed whether the app should be banned.
To understand why one is so concerned about a Chinese app, there are two things in particular that are important to bear in mind: why digital goods are different from other types of goods, and why many Western countries, and primarily the United States, have become particularly concerned about Chinese technology in recent years.
2: Why are digital goods scarier than other goods?
“Made in China” is a brand that is on a bunch of things we use daily, in fact China accounts for 28 percent of the world’s goods production, according to the UN Statistics Department.
Why are you so worried about Chinese digital technology? First and foremost because digital goods differ from other goods in some important respects: They are often connected to the Internet and can communicate with humans and machines on the other side of the earth, they can consist of many thousands of lines of code that allow unforeseen errors have major consequences, and they can gather information about a lot of things we do .
The fear that this could be misused, either to gather information or even as a weapon, has made cybersecurity an increasingly relevant topic.
As the world becomes increasingly digital, states have become more concerned with protecting themselves against abuse through technology. One of the biggest concerns is that it should be used to sabotage , especially against what is called critical infrastructure , such as the power grid and water supply. If these systems are put out of action, the consequences can be very great.
The best-known example of this type of concern is the debates over the use of equipment from Huawei, another Chinese company, in the development of the new 5G network. Several countries, such as Norway, have introduced restrictions on the use of equipment from the supplier, while others have banned it completely. The United States banned Huawei in practice as early as 2012.
For apps like TikTok, it is not sabotage that is the biggest concern, but the large amount of information that this type of app collects.
Major powers such as China and the United States are constantly spying, and although most of the information on such apps is uninteresting, there may still be sensitive information that can be misused. A good example is the training app Strava, which was used by soldiers on missions and in this way revealed secret military bases. There are also several who point out that even seemingly “useless” information can be useful if you collect large enough amounts of it, because it can be used to train artificial intelligence , among other things .
Finally, there has been concern that, for example, TikTok will be misused to influence American voters in the election campaign, in the same way as attempts have been made via Facebook or Twitter .
3: Why are we so afraid of China?
Although cybersecurity is something more and more people are worried about, there are a large number of apps no one is thinking of banning. An app in itself is not a security problem, it is the possibility that states can abuse the apps they are afraid of. It therefore makes a big difference which states the apps come from, and the USA and other western countries are currently extra worried about apps coming from China.
The US government has long been dissatisfied with China’s behavior, and especially the aggressive espionage the United States has been subjected to. Although it is common for countries to spy on each other, several have argued that China spies in a way that is not acceptable.
In addition to “legal” espionage, such as spying on the US military, Chinese hackers have also stolen technology and knowledge from small and large private companies.
In addition, many believe that the Chinese authorities have recently developed in an increasingly negative and dangerous direction. For a long time it was thought that after the Cold War, China would become more democratic and look like the West, but President Xi Jinping has instead secured more and more power.
In addition, the extensive surveillance of its own citizens, the repression of the Uighur minority, the construction of military bases in the South China Sea and the handling of the demonstrations in Hong Kong have created concerns that China is on its way to becoming an even more authoritarian state with greater international ambitions. .