A man wearing a shirt promoting TikTok is seen at an Apple store in Beijing on Friday, July 17, 2020. U. S. President Donald Trump says he wants to take action to ban TikTok, a popular Chinese-owned video app that has been a source of national security and censorship concerns. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Q&A: TikTok saga continues with Microsoft talks. Now what?

President Donald Trump has threatened a ‘ban’ on TikTok

The latest twist in the TikTok saga is an especially strange turn in a tale filled with strange turns. Suddenly, Microsoft — known primarily for work software like Windows and Office — is in talks to buy the popular Chinese-owned video app, which has raised national-security concerns for U.S. officials.

The U.S. government is effectively forcing ByteDance, TikTok’s owner, to sell so it can salvage the app in the U.S., a huge and valuable market. President Donald Trump has threatened a “ban” on TikTok and other administration officials and U.S. lawmakers of both parties have said the app’s Chinese ownership is a concern.

It’s unclear what shape such a ban would take or whether the sale will go through. TikTok’s users are posting videos saying they are upset and angry. Here’s what’s at stake.

Q. What is TikTok again?

A. The app is a home for fun, goofy videos that are easy to make and to watch. That’s made it immensely popular, particularly with young people, and U.S. tech giants like Facebook and Snapchat see it as a competitive threat. TikTok says it has 100 million U.S. users and hundreds of millions globally. It has its own influencer culture, allowing people to make a living from posting videos on the service, and hosts ads from major U.S. companies.

ByteDance Ltd., a Chinese company, launched TikTok in 2017, then bought Musical.ly, a video service popular with teens in the U.S. and Europe, and combined the two. A twin service, Douyin, is available for Chinese users.

Q. What concerns U.S. officials about the app?

A. TikTok, like most other social networks, collects data about its users and moderates what’s posted. It grabs people’s locations and messages they send one another, for example, and tracks what people watch in order to know what kinds of videos they like and how best to target ads to them.

Similar behaviour has raised concerns about American social networks, but Chinese ownership adds an additional wrinkle, because the Chinese government can demand that companies help it gather intelligence. In the case of TikTok, this remains a hypothetical threat, said Samm Sacks, a researcher at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center — but it could be happening.

TikTok has vowed that U.S. user data is not stored in China and that it would not hand over user data to the government. But experts have said that if the Chinese government wants information, it will get it. The U.S. government has also cracked down on Chinese telecom companies Huawei and ZTE because of this worry. The companies deny that they facilitate spying.

There are also concerns about TikTok censoring videos critical of China, which TikTok denies, or pushing propaganda. Advocates in the U.S. also say the company is violating children’s privacy laws.

READ MORE: 12 men fined after TikTok filming sparks police response in Surrey

Q. Is the threat from TikTok unique?

A. No. China’s economic espionage is a well-known threat, and similar user data concerns were raised about Huawei, the telecom equipment maker. The Chinese military or groups with ties to it are accused of massive hacks of sensitive information from credit bureau Equifax and the federal Office of Personnel Management.

But several experts say that the U.S. government is lashing out at Chinese tech companies without taking significant steps to protect Americans’ privacy with federal legislation and while working to undermine encryption, which allows secure communications that can’t be easily read by outsiders.

“We’re trying to solve the issue of how you manage all the security risk that comes from massive data collection in an unregulated space, and we’re trying to solve it by playing whack-a-mole with different Chinese companies that we see as threats,” Sacks said. “We get into dangerous territory where the U.S. government is controlling what Americans can and can’t do…. This is technonationalism.”

Trump may also have reason to personally dislike TikTok, which has started to join the U.S. political conversation. In June, young people carried out a campaign on TikTok and other apps to troll the president by artificially boosting expected turnout for a Trump rally in Oklahoma. Sarah Cooper, a comedian who lip-syncs Trump’s statements in videos that make him look ridiculous, is a TikTok star.

Q. Would a purchase by Microsoft address the administration’s concerns?

A. “I think the security concern frankly has come down to the parent company is Chinese and that’s what U.S. lawmakers have a problem with,” Sacks said. If that’s the issue, a Microsoft deal would solve the problem.

In remarks to reporters Monday, Trump said he supported such an arrangement. He said “we’ll close down (TikTok) on September 15 unless Microsoft or somebody else is able to buy it.” He said such a deal would require that the U.S. government “gets a lot of money” because it’s enabling the deal to happen. But not everyone in the White House may be in agreement; presidential trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Fox News Monday that the deal was a problem because of Microsoft’s operations in China.

Q. So, Microsoft might buy TikTok? Really?

A. Really. Other potential Big Tech buyers, especially Facebook and Google, would likely face antitrust concerns if they tried to buy TikTok.

Microsoft does already own the professional and job-hunting site LinkedIn, and it is the No. 4 digital ad company in the U.S., after Google, Facebook and Amazon. But TikTok would be a sharp change in direction away from workplace services for Microsoft.

Q. What happens next?

A. Microsoft is in talks with ByteDance and plans to complete those by Sept. 15. Any deal may involve other American investors as well.

Microsoft’s plan would be to own and operate TikTok in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. That might complicate things if the service has different owners in different parts of the world.

Q. How would a ban of TikTok work, anyway?

A. That’s also not clear. TikTok could have been put on a Commerce Department list, like Huawei is, that cuts it off from business with U.S. companies. That could mean it wouldn’t work on the Apple and Google app stores. But it’s an unprecedented situation for a consumer app.

“Never in our history since we’ve had app stores on smartphones have I been able to find an example where an app was actually banned by the U.S. government,” said Theresa Payton, the former White House Chief Information Officer and CEO of a cybersecurity consultancy.

Q. What are the political consequences for a ban on TikTok?

A. Tensions between China and the U.S. have been increasing over trade policy, diplomatic relations and cybersecurity concerns. The U.S. has pressed allies to crack down on Huawei and imposed sanctions. Trump has also misleadingly blamed China for the coronavirus pandemic, calling it the “China virus.”

__

AP Reporter Zeke Miller contributed to this report from Washington, D.C.

Tali Arbel, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

social mediaTikTok

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Editorial: More LKB neighbours leads to more understanding

“Both proposals for Kinsmen Park serve each party’s stakeholders well. Each has the intention of strengthening and growing community. But only one truly offers a chance to heal the past and change the narrative for the future.”

Citing stability, B.C. Premier calls snap election for Oct. 24

John Horgan meets with Lieutenant Governor to request vote

Creston’s temporary worker camp for cherry-pickers wraps up for season

The camp provided accommodations for up to 50 temporary workers during the cherry-picking season

Creston RCMP report: 62 calls for assistance from Sept. 14 to 21

On Sept. 18, police attended to a report of a male causing a disturbance at a Creston business after he was denied use of the washroom facilities

Creston Fire Rescue report: 10 calls for action between Sept. 14 and 21

CFR responded to a carbon monoxide alarm in the area of Regina Street on Sept. 20, and found moderate levels of carbon monoxide after searching the residence with a gas monitor

B.C. reports 96 new COVID-19 cases, one hospital outbreak

61 people in hospital as summer ends with election

‘Unprecedented’ coalition demands end to B.C. salmon farms

First Nations, commercial fishermen among group calling for action on Cohen recommendations

Earthquake off coast of Washington recorded at 4.1 magnitude

The quake was recorded at a depth of 10 kilometres

B.C.’s top doctor says she’s received abuse, death threats during COVID-19 response

Henry has become a national figure during her time leading B.C.’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

BC Liberals must change gears from election cynicism, focus on the issues: UBC professors

COVID-19 response and recovery is likely to dominate platforms

B.C. could be without a new leader for multiple weeks after Election Day: officials

More than 20K mail-in voting packages were requested within a day of B.C. election being called

Vancouver Island sailor stranded in U.S. hospital after suffering massive stroke at sea

Oak Bay man was attempting to circumnavigate the world solo

Most Read