At a glance.
- TikTok and the near-term prospects of Sino-American competition in cyberspace.
- Australia sees no problem with TikTok.
TikTok and the near-term prospects of Sino-American competition in cyberspace.
Huawei represented the first flashpoint of US concern over the security risk Chinese IT firms presented when they gained a beachhead in foreign markets, but it's obviously not going to be the last one. TikTok, which may see an acquisition by Microsoft, is the next one up, and it, too, is unlikely to be the last. Virginia Tech's Mike Horning, Director of Social Informatics Research in the university's Center for Human Computer Interaction, emailed a summary explanation of what US policymakers find troubling about TikTok:
“The growth of TikTok has raised concerns among security experts for a number of reasons. The app has gained attention because it uses a powerful algorithm that customizes content to users based on a number of user characteristics. This algorithm collects such sophisticated data about users that the data is attractive to both corporations and governments.
“However, the company has not been very transparent about who it sells your data to. Analyses of their data capturing methods have shown that personal data could be shared with hundreds of other companies. In addition, because the app is located in China, its data sharing practices are susceptible to Chinese law which requires that data be made available to Chinese officials. This raises security concerns.
“The sale of the app to an American-based company could alleviate concerns that American data is being shared with foreign powers that are not always working in our mutual interests. An acquisition by Microsoft would provide another asset to the company which has been making investments in some social networks such as LinkedIn. It would also have the potential for lawmakers to provide certain restrictions on data sharing and collection practices in the future.”
There are other dimensions to the conflict as well. WIRED points out, for example, that Chinese IT companies had long enjoyed relatively unfettered access to American markets, while the reverse was decidedly not the case. That's clearly changed. An application developer trade association, ACT, expressed its concerns to the Wall Street Journal that the stiffening US line would provoke retaliatory trade measures from China.
Australia sees no problem with TikTok (for now).
Reuters reports that Australian Prime Minister Morrison said yesterday that, while his government is monitoring developments in the TikTok affair, it had so far seen no risks in the social platform that would warrant banning it. “We’ll obviously keep watching them, but there’s no evidence to suggest to us today that that is a step that is necessary," he told the Aspen Security Conference (via Zoom, of course). “There’s nothing at this point that would suggest to us that security interests are being compromised or Australian citizens are being compromised,” he added. In relative terms Australia has emerged as one of the more Sino-skeptical governments in the world, arguably lagging only India, Vietnam, Taiwan, and the United States, and the Prime Minister was also clearly interested in reminding his audience that to sup with China ought to require a long spoon. “But people should know that the line connects right back to China and they should exercise their own judgment about whether they should participate in those things or not,” he said.