TikTok ban: Could it happen in the UK?

Amalie Sortland July 21, 2020
TikTok ban: Could it happen in the UK?

If you don’t know what TikTok is by now… where have you been? 

TikTok is a Chinese social media platform with over 800 million users featuring an endless stream of short video clips of lip syncing, dancing, humour, activism and everything in between. 

It’s the most downloaded app of 2020 – and the entire last decade – despite only being launched in 2018. 

What is the problem?

TikTok has recently gained traction in the news, as many governments around the world are worried about the extent of China’s influence on the app.

The concerns lie with TikTok’s parent company ByteDance; how it shares our data and whether it’s tied to the Chinese state and surveillance.

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

A potential ban

Some governments are looking to ban the app altogether. 

TikTok has just been banned in India because it is seen as a national security threat.

With one-third of all smartphone users having downloaded the app, India is TikTok’s largest overseas market. Along with TikTok, India has also recently banned 50 other Chinese apps.

American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated that he is “looking into” banning TikTok for the same reason. TikTok may only be allowed to keep operating if it splits from China and becomes an independent American company. 

The US government theorises that the company might “support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Banning TikTok in the US could jeopardise much of TikTok’s business, as it holds some of TikTok’s biggest names and has over 30 million users. Charli D’Amelio, for example, has more than 70 million followers on today’s date. 

Many of these stars are already urging their followers to find them on other social media platforms in fear of the ban. 

Photo Illustration by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

So what do we know? 

The TikTok algorithms reflect all your interests back to you and always seem to know what you want to watch. This is entertaining, but when you really think about it, it’s mysterious and confusing.

As it turns out, not a lot of people know how TikTok’s algorithms work. 

TikTok has previously stated that it operates separately from ByteDance and stores its data outside of China. 

According to TikTok, the data is stored in the US and backed up in Singapore. It’s also recently said that its European privacy operations have been moved to Ireland. 

TikTok recently withdrew the app from Hong Kong along with Twitter, Google and Facebook because new Chinese security laws aim to restrict pro-democracy protesters. On this topic, The BBC’s Sophia Smith Galer asks: “Is TikTok trying to demonstrate that it does not have ties its Chinese origins?”

At the same time, TikTok has refused to appear at congressional hearings in the US to discuss these security concerns. 

Photo by Phil Barker/Future Publishing via Getty Images

What about the UK?

According to Express, Matt Navarra, an industry expert and social media consultant, has suggested a UK ban on TikTok is “plausible” but “less likely” than in other countries. 

However, TikTok’s plan to base its international headquarters in London has been questioned following the company’s recent scrutiny in the US. 

The Sunday Times reported that building TikTok’s headquarters in the UK could potentially create 3,000 jobs.

“We remain fully committed to investing in London,” said a ByteDance spokesman.

The decision comes as tensions build between the UK and China over the Johnson government’s recent decision to remove Chinese Huawei’s 5G equipment from Britain’s mobile networks by 2027.

The Trump administration has already placed sanctions against Huawei, claiming the Chinese firm provides potential access for spying on countries that use its equipment.

Huawei strongly denies these claims.

Mr Navarra addressed the “uncertainty” around a number of Chinese firms and the “perceived risk” of using them. 

However, he denies that the UK is likely to follow in US footsteps. Although the two countries hold similar concerns around China and Chinese companies, the UK is taking a different approach. 

“Just because the US is considering banning TikTok doesn’t mean the UK will follow.”

Mr Navarra felt a UK ban of TikTok was unlikely, much to the relief of British TikTok users.

Although the app may be banned in the US, a ban is not absolute. TikTok has already been banned and reinstated before in Bangladesh and Indonesia.

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Recent Politics graduate from the University of Edinburgh.