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 The popular Chinese app has been banned in the US and UK for security reasons, writes Sonny Aragba-Akpore

ByteDance of Beijing, China, owners of TikTok, is in a dilemma over what the future looks like for the app. Their fears stem from the ban imposed on it by governments of the United States of America (USA) and the United Kingdom (UK). The carefully choreographed ban was announced by both countries two weeks ago.

If the ban is sustained, the over 150m users in the USA may be reduced very significantly even though the American ban is presently restricted to government devices.

The UK has over 20 million users.

Both countries are among the over 150 countries where the App is in use. Their numbers are also part of the over one billion people that are on TikTok globally.

The US government says TikTok should be sold or else face a possible ban in the country.

China reacted last week saying any forced sale of TikTok will be strongly opposed, in response to demands by the Biden administration that the app’s Chinese owners sell their share of the company or face a ban.

  This development came as TikTok CEO Shou Chew testified in front of US lawmakers amid increasing scrutiny over the app’s ties to China. 

   China’s commerce ministry said a forced sale of TikTok would “seriously damage” global investors’ confidence in the United States.

  The video-sharing app, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, is accused of posing a national security risk through data gathered from millions of users.

  But the company said a forced sale would not change its data flows or access.

  Even though the White House has not specifically commented on the ban, there are strong indications that the order to sell TikTok shares is a subtle way of banning especially if ByteDance does not respond accordingly.

  For years, American officials have raised concerns that data from the popular app could fall into the hands of the Chinese government.

  US President Joe Biden’s administration wants ByteDance to divest itself of TikTok to create a clear break from China.

  The Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS), which oversees national security risks, unanimously recommended ByteDance divest from TikTok.

TikTok has also been banned on UK government electronic devices, the Cabinet Office said. The ban comes after Cabinet Office Ministers ordered a security review. This looked at the potential vulnerability of government data from social media apps on devices and risks around how sensitive information could be accessed and used by some platforms.

  Given the potentially sensitive nature of information which is stored on government devices, government policy on the management of third party applications will be strengthened and a precautionary ban on TikTok on government devices is being introduced.

   Currently there is limited use of TikTok within government and limited need for government staff to use the app on work devices.

These bans will be a big blow and threats to content developers worldwide as the American and British templates affect other parts of the globe.

 “If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem,” TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan said in a statement. “A change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access. The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing.”
  China describes the actions by the United States as being “unreasonably suppressing” TikTok and spreading “false information” about data security.

“The US side has so far failed to produce evidence that Tik Tok threatens US national security,” China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing last week.
  TikTok has been negotiating with CFIUS — a group composed of the Departments of Treasury, Justice, Homeland Security, Defense and Commerce, among others — for more than two years on a deal that might allow the app to continue operating in the US market in the face of security and privacy concerns. US officials have raised fears that the Chinese government could use its national security laws to pressure TikTok or its Chinese parent ByteDance into handing over the personal information of TikTok’s US users, which might then benefit Chinese intelligence activities or influence campaign.

  Apart from the USA and UK, the ban decision is in line with similar restrictions brought in by key international partners, including Canadian governments, and the European Commission.

As things are today, the ban in the US and UK may spread to other countries as allegiances may come to play after all, according to agency reports.

  Specifically, the Chinese app may reactivate the ‘Cold War’ era especially going by the raging Russian/Ukraine war for which global communities now foist alliances against the war.

   Chinese President Xi was in Russia on a state visit recently which analysts described as solidarity, a situation that other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) frown at thus creating more tension in the bargain.

This may hurt TikTok further.

America has the largest number of users, about 150m followed by Indonesia (87.5), Brazil (72.3 m), The Russian Federation (48.8m), Mexico (41.6 m), and Vietnam(39.7m).

Thailand has 35.6m users while The Philippines has

33.0 million users, Turkey with

24.6 million users, and the UK with 20.1 million in that order.

  Although the ban in the UK applies to government corporate devices within all government departments, there are specific exemptions for the use of TikTok on government devices that are being put in place where required for work purposes.

  Exemptions will only be granted by security teams on a case-by-case basis, with ministerial clearance as appropriate, and with security mitigations put in place.

  These exemptions will cover areas such as individuals working in relevant enforcement roles, or for example for the purposes of work on online harms.

Zhang Yiming is founder of this Chinese tech giant ByteDance, best known for its insanely popular app TikTok, which has more than one billion users worldwide. Zhang resigned as CEO of Bytedance in May 2021 and as chairman in November 2021, reportedly under pressure from the Chinese government.

This app is very popular among content developers in developing countries including Nigeria.

As at January 2022, TikTok had over three Billion downloads and over one Billion monthly users.

·         TikTok was the most popular app downloaded globally in 2020 and 2021.

Aragba-Akpore is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board

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