Starting Sunday, Americans won’t be able to download the TikTok app through either the Apple Store or Google Play. If you don’t have the TikTok app already, you won’t be able to get it past midnight on Sunday. For those that do have the app, it means they won’t be getting any more system updates which could impact functionality and eventually stop working altogether.
If you recall the mention earlier this week about Oracle’s deal with TikTok, it’s now clear being a “trusted tech partner” means nothing. Apparently, Oracle’s security roots are not enough to convince the Commerce Department that everything’s cool now. If we’re being really technical, TikTok is not yet “shut down” in the U.S. Users who have the app will still be able to use it and see and make content until November 12.
WeChat is also falling victim to this executive order and will be pulled from app stores this Sunday as well. But WeChat has it much worse. Starting Sunday, it’ll be illegal to provide Internet hosting and networking services. At least TikTok will have that for another few months.
What the Ban Means
Beside the obvious (you can’t get the app after Sunday and it all shuts down on Nov. 12), there is a lot to unpack here. Official statements from the White House proclaim these actions are protections against the Chinese Communist Party. Missing from those statements are specific details on the actual security risks. Yes, TikTok is owned by ByteDance. Yes, ByteDance is based in China. Yes, under TikTok’s terms of service data could be shared with ByteDance. But TikTok has committed to way more transparency and accountability than other apps – including third-party audits, verification of code security and U.S. government oversight of U.S. data security. And TikTok doesn’t even sell user data to third parties. Lots of apps sell your data or at least sell access to you.
The New York Times obtained a CIA assessment that found no evidence the app was being used by Chinese spy agencies to intercept data. Multiple security assessments of the app found it no more vulnerable than most other popular apps.
An Unprecedented Ban
This whole thing feels weird and suspect. It’s an unprecedented ban on an app. Sure, we are living in Unprecedented Times™ right now. We’ve made it this long without a presidential ban on an app expected of spyware and surely there have been concerns for other apps. So why go after TikTok and why now?
TikTok has helped drive big societal movements right now. Black Lives Matter protestors used TikTok to share videos and organize protests. TikTokers infamously trolled Trump’s Tulsa, OK rally in June. There’s lots of anti-Trump content and even more content encouraging young voters to use their voice and take action to make change.
Over half of U.S. TikTok users are between ages 18-34 and half of that group are 18-24. That math works out to so nearly a quarter of TikTok users in the U.S. are potential first-time voters. That is some compelling demographic information, no?