For weeks now, several countries have banned the Chinese application TikTok from being installed on cell phones. With more than 1 billion active users, TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, is the sixth most used social network in the world.
In the United States, a law prohibits the downloading and use of TikTok on the devices of government officials. A score of states have adopted similar measures at the local level for their own officials. A bill is also being debated in Congress that would ban the app entirely in the United States.
TikTok is part of the economic war between the United States and China. The goal is to prevent the development of Chinese technology in the world. "TikTok is a modern-day Chinese Communist Party Trojan horse used to surveil Americans and exploit their personal information," Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said yesterday.
TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, is based in Beijing and only entered the Western market through a takeover of U.S.-based Musical.ly in late 2017, which immediately morphed into TikTok.
The app was the most downloaded app last year. This is the first time Western users have flocked to a non-US app.
If the U.S. bans TikTok, the Chinese company would lose its biggest market, from which it drives all its business in the West. To avoid this, it has dropped its pants. It has presented the Texas Plan, on which it has spent $1.5 billion to offer unprecedented guarantees to the White House.
But the battle is lost in advance because the pretexts for banning enforcement are bogus. The bans are being imposed despite the fact that no large-scale security incidents have been attributed to the app. TikTok is not being accused of any specific event; only of "potential risks."
Washington doesn't give a damn about "personal information," as it has characteristically demonstrated on a multitude of occasions. What they are concerned about is Chinese influence among young people.
In early December, FBI Director Chris Wray claimed that China could use TikTok to do the same things they regularly do, for example on Twitter: manipulate content and unleash "influence operations". Like any social network, the application highlights certain content, which worries the United States. American culture spreads around the world, but Chinese culture cannot reach young Americans.
The European Parliament is following dictates from across the Atlantic. On Tuesday it informed its staff that it was banning the use of the Chinese social network TikTok on work devices, under the same old pretext: data security.
Last week the European Commission did the same: it banned the use of TikTok on its staff's work devices under the pretext of "protecting the institution's data." Commission officials have until March 15 to uninstall the app from their work devices.
They will also have to remove TikTok from their personal devices if they contain applications approved for professional use (email, video conferencing). The European Council, a body of member states will adopt similar measures.
They also "strongly" recommend officials to remove TikTok from their personal devices.
It speaks of "cybersecurity threats" that could be "exploited in cyberattacks against the Commission's working environment." But it declines to say whether there has been a specific incident to support the decision or whether there is any way for TikTok to fix the problem.
The same is true in Canada, which has banned the app on the cell phones it provides to its staff as of Tuesday. The president of the Treasury Department, Mona Fortier, assures that the measure has been taken "as a precautionary measure".
"We have no reason to believe at this time that any government information has been compromised," she added.