U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he would ban the TikTok social media app from being used inside the country.
Such a change — which the president believed would arrive by the use of presidential powers — will put the U.S. among the countries that have succeeded in ousting the device over information security or privacy concerns.
According to Queen’s University professor David Skillicorn, most, if not all, big social network firms make use of the data processing activities of TikTok.
However, the possibility, according to Skillicorn, is that these data might theoretically be passed on to China, because TikTok is controlled by Bytedance, a Chinese firm.
“So when push comes to shove, they can be forced to surrender all their data to the Chinese government, and that’s a fairly obvious concern, at least on the international level,” said Skillicorn in an interview with Global News.
The decision by the Trump administration to block the famous cybersecurity software has posed the same problem for their neighbors north of the border — should the Canadian government now make attempts to curtail the software?
A representative from Public Protection Canada did not answer explicitly that authorities were discussing it in response to queries from Global Press.
“We live in a highly connected world and now more than ever, information technology plays an incredibly important role in all of our lives,” read a statement from the agency on Sunday. “Our government continues to work in close collaboration with agencies and leaders in the technology sector to ensure Canadians follow best practices to be safe online and that our systems are secure.”
“Canadians can be confident in the work performed by our security agencies, who will not hesitate to act in order to keep our country safe.”
The Information Protection Department, the Canadian body that guards from possible cyber attacks, claimed they were not a government authority, and therefore did not approve or prohibit applications for social networking.
Abishur Prakash, a strategic futurist at Toronto’s Centre for Innovating the Future, said the decision-making mechanism behind banning TikTok is even more complex than the privacy issues that accompany it.
According to Prakash, America’s motivation to evict Chinese telecommunications companies ZTE, Huawei and now TikTok falls in the shape of strategic aesthetics, as well as throwing global rivals’ market models into disarray.
“This is also a move by the U.S., by the Trump administration, to also protect itself from a new kind of election interference. We talk about foreign interference in the 2016 election through state-sponsored advertisements, cyberattacks etc., well, this is now the emergence of a very new form,” said Prakash, who referenced the alleged use of TikTok to sabotage Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla.
Canada itself is now embroiled in a diplomatic spat with the Chinese government over Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou ‘s arrest, as well as China’s detention of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, generally viewed as retaliatory.
Notwithstanding existing strains between Ottawa and China, Prakash said he was already willing to see Canada “taking a very impulsive route towards” a decision about whether to block the device or not.
“I can see with USMCA, with (the) Arctic, with coronavirus, with all of these major transformations on the foreign policy plate of Ottawa that a ban on TikTok could be viewed as almost viewed as not a big deal — just do it and move on — which is completely the wrong approach.”
Human rights abusses in the Xinjiang area of China, the recently introduced Hong Kong protection rule, and conflicts over the dissemination of the Wuhan-born novel coronavirus have all brought global scrutiny of China to the fore.
Several countries have already removed the social media platform, such as India and Pakistan, while Chinese companies such as Huawei and ZTE have faced widespread bans or shutdowns around the world.
“If you’re in the Chinese government, and you’re looking at a map, and you’re just looking at, ‘how are my companies being treated around the world?’…one thing is clear is that Chinese technology companies are under siege around the world, and the government of China is yet to retaliate,” said Prakash.
Depending on how violent China decides to respond to these bans, Prakash said retribution may either come in the form of barring a western corporation like Apple outright, ordering its venture capitalists to avoid investing in international companies or enforcing their control through the worldwide monopolization of development systems. Prakash thinks that the latter option looks like what China is doing in the long run.
“There are so many ways this retaliation can take place and it’s really up to the toll that Chinese state officials want to take.”