After much discussion in the media and the Administration, President Donald Trump has announced that Microsoft has until September 15 to reach a deal with the Chinese based owners of TikTok to buy out the company’s U.S. customers. It’s another indication of the United States’ concerns over China’s growing police state and authoritarian policies.
TikTok is an app used mostly by teenagers and young people to create lip sync videos that they can share with friends and followers. The app itself is harmless enough, but there are growing concerns that the app could give the Chinese Communist Party a backdoor to the personal data of its users, including Americans.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was one of the first from the Administration to sound the alarm about the possibility of a ban and growing concerns about China’s interest in American’s personal information.
On the ‘Laura Ingraham Show,’ he said, “With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cellphones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too, Laura. I don’t want to get out in front of the President, but it’s something to look at.”
He later suggested that people should consider deleting the app unless, “you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Under the threat of a federal ban, Microsoft has offered to buy the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and Australia aspects of the company, leaving the rest to China.
There is no doubt that China’s growing police state is a concern for the world at large.
In Xinjiang, the Northwestern region of the country, the surveillance state has grown to a concerning level as a method of suppressing the Uyghur minority and managing the general population.
According to reports, families have a QR code outside their home that police officers can scan and learn more about the family. Uyghurs are also required to download a specific tracking app on their phone allowing the state to see their movements and log all communications. The police can even track phone calls through voice recognition, information gained by forcing Uyghurs and others to provide their voice, DNA and fingerprints for identification and tracking.
The region is under heavy surveillance with face recognition software and periodic checkpoints. It’s so extensive, that even other groups don’t want to live there.
China is also exporting this technology to other countries.
Even outside Xinjiang, the country has also developed a strict social credit system,
which “assigns both positive and negative scores for individual or corporate behavior in an attempt to pressure citizens into behaving.”
In the biggest and most notable example of the system, star Fan Bingbing, who had a role in X-Men Days of Future Past, disappeared from the world stage in 2018 for three months before it was announced by Chinese authorities that the actress had a 0% “social responsibility” score. It has since emerged that Fan was held in what’s called “residential surveillance,” which is a “system instituted in 2012, under Xi Jinping, making it legal for the Chinese secret police to detain someone charged with endangering state security or committing corruption and hold them at an undisclosed location for six months without access to lawyers or family members.”
After her detention, Fan apologized for tax evasion and was hit with a fine of $131 million, which is more than her $100 million net worth.
It’s unclear what China would exactly do with all the data it’s getting from Western users through an app like TikTok, but based on how the Chinese Communist Party treats its own citizens, there is no doubt that it could be used to harm American interests in the future.
As Nicholas Bequeline of Amnesty International said, “Deng Xiaoping kept everyone together by promising to make them rich. What keeps things together under Xi is fear. Fear of the system, where no matter how high you are, from one day to the next you can disappear.”
As the tension grows between the United States and China over a variety of issues, banning TikTok or selling its United States audience to a U.S. based company like Microsoft makes sense for both American privacy and national security.
Photo from Ascannio / Shutterstock.com
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