The Donald Trump administration has moved toward banning the Chinese company that runs TikTok, a video-sharing application. This may be a manifestation of the ongoing Chinese American rivalry spreading to cyberspace, and it is a problem that merits concern.
ByteDance, the Chinese company that runs TikTok, was warned to sell its U.S. operations to an American firm by Sept. 15 of this year. Microsoft announced that it was in talks to purchase the app, but if that fails, the use of TikTok within the U.S. will be prohibited.
ByteDance is practically being pressured to withdraw from America. In the background are “national security concerns” according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. ByteDance has consistently denied any espionage, but there are inevitable consequences of America’s hard-line policies.
The Chinese Communist Party’s move to regulate internet companies is alarming. China implemented a National Intelligence Law in 2017 that obliges private companies and individuals to cooperate in China’s data activities.
Since they are Chinese companies, they have no choice but to obey the authorities. Just like with Huawei, which is being banned from America and Britain, fears that TikTok will leak massive amounts of user data linger everywhere.
To eliminate the concern, reform in China itself is probably needed. Foreign companies like Google and Facebook have been shut out because of the internal information regulations. As long as it does not open up, and it retains a different kind of legal system than Japan and the West, it will be hard for Chinese-developed information technology services to become international standards.
In Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party is also working on a plan for regulations limiting the use of TikTok. A detailed explanation for users is essential.
Some 10 million Japanese, especially young people, use TikTok. If it is immediately banned simply for being Chinese, it may cause an uproar. An announcement must be made after a detailed investigation, and authorities must explain what kind of danger the app poses.
Users will suffer the consequences of a divided internet. We urge Japan and the West to call on the Chinese government to cease its online regulation and the system whereby parties interfere with tech companies.