Op-ed: Don’t Ban TikTok Before A Public Trial

Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column arguing that the U.S. should not ban TikTok until definitive proof of wrongdoing can be found. You can find a counterpoint here, where James Carafano, vice president of the Heritage Foundation, argues that the U.S. should take a more aggressive approach to limit TikTok’s cooperation with the Chinese government.

On August 6, the White House gave TikTok’s parent company in Beijing, ByteDance, 45 days to sell off the social media app or face a ban in the United States. Hours later, the Trump administration also dropped an executive order on Tencent, banning the WeChat app from phones with a similar deadline. Both are being targeted for their data practices.

Those in favor or opposed to the executive order on TikTok have created a false choice between an outright ban and doing nothing. This is wrong. There are a range of options the administration could take, but they all must begin with defining the clear harms caused by TikTok. We need the whole picture before outlining appropriate remedies.

According to the executive order, TikTok poses three kinds of risk. The administration accuses the Chinese government of using the app to collect data that might be used to track federal employees and blackmail them, censoring content that could be damaging to the Chinese Communist Party, and using the app in disinformation campaigns.

As for the claims around tracking and data collection, some reports suggest that TikTok is sending encrypted information back to China. This is known as exfiltration, and it is a serious charge. However, there is hardly enough evidence to convict.

French security researcher Elliot Alderson conducted a deep dive on these logs and found nothing unusual, saying, “in its current state, TikTok doesn’t have a suspicious behavior and is not exfiltrating unusual data.” He continued, “we would obtain similar results with Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and others.”

The other two charges laid in the executive order against TikTok are more subtle, but are just as serious. Yet, close watchers of TikTok are skeptical of the claims of censorship in the United States. Analyst Eugene Wei noted, “I tend to think that problem is overrated because my sense is that many in China still don’t understand the nuances of American culture, just as America doesn’t understand theirs.”

Read the full op-ed at The Daily Caller.

CGO scholars and fellows frequently comment on a variety of topics for the popular press. The views expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Growth and Opportunity or the views of Utah State University.