TikTok facing ban in America; penalized $384 million in Europe

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

The US House of Reps has passed a bill to ban TikTok unless it cuts ties to Communist China. Chinese parent ByteDance must sell TikTok to another nationality in six months or be shut down.

The Foreign-Adversary-Controlled Applications Bill came as TikTok expanded from 60-second personal videos into news providing. It got 352 to 65 votes amid data that TikTok spies on Americans and may sway them as presidential elections near.

The bill moves to the Senate where it also enjoys bipartisan support. President Joe Biden vows to sign it into law at once.

TikTok faces a similar security ban in Canada. The industry ministry is investigating TikTok, which is further diversifying into online shopping.

On March 14, a day after the US congressional action, Canada disclosed a national security review of TikTok’s influence. A company spokesperson said it was cooperating with the review. Canada banned TikTok in all government-issued devices in 2023.

TikTok worries Europe for another reason. Also last week, Italy penalized it $10.94 million for exposing minors to harmful content.

That brought to $384.34 million the fines Europe has imposed on the Chinese platform in 15 months. Ireland and France punished TikTok $368 million in September and $5.4 million in January 2023, respectively, for the same offense.

US and Canada’s fears are not unfounded. Studies show TikTok to be secretly extracting information from and misusing preferences of users. TikTok denies it but cites no proof. It refused to sell even minority stake to US tech titan Microsoft that wanted access to its source codes.

China’s communist rulers manipulate news for propaganda. The Chinese Communist Party-International Department serves as prime source of overseas ideological influencing. Recent targets were Australia and New Zealand government officials.

Beijing’s 2017 National Intelligence Law compels all Chinese citizens and companies to participate in domestic and overseas spying, and to keep such participation secret. Chinese national Zhang Yiming founded ByteDance in Beijing in 2012.

The company and owner fall under CCP control. President Xi Jinping, the CCP boss, has ordered all companies, not only state-owned ones, to have CCP political cells.

More than 170 million American adults devote 56 minutes a day to TikTok. The platform began as video sharing but now offers news and commentary. A newspaper or radio-tv network’s editorial line is evident in every issue or episode. But TikTok dishes out selected news and opinion to hundreds of millions of users via secret algorithms.

Donald Trump nearly forced TikTok’s sell out during his last year as president in 2020. He has changed his stance now that he’s contesting Biden in the November balloting.

His hated Meta would benefit most from a TikTok ban, he told Republican partymates in the Senate. Meta exiled Trump from Facebook, Instagram and Reels after his followers stormed Capitol Hill to protest his defeat by Biden in 2020.

Trump has another reason to turn pro-TikTok. New campaign contributor and hedge-fund billionaire Jeff Yass owns investment firm Susquehanna, a minority stockholder of ByteDance.

In Europe, TikTok’s latest breach was in allowing the “French Scar Challenge.” Hundreds of videos spread of youngsters’ self-harming. It involved continuously and violently squeezing the skin of one’s cheeks until it causes lasting bruises.

Italian authorities verified TikTok’s responsibility in spreading content “likely to threaten the psycho-physical safety” of users. Ireland and France earlier found TikTok liable for failure to protect the privacy of underage users.

European governments prohibited the use of TikTok in state devices since 2020. India forbade it even from private users that year after a border skirmish with China. Nepal is contemplating a similar ban.

The Philippine military has long banned the use of TikTok by soldiers. Armed Forces spokesperson Col. Francel Margareth Padilla said uniformed personnel have been told to avoid using TikTok in official and personal gadgets.

“Based on US research, it has a listening capability, it can monitor your activities through your phone,” Padilla said last month. “When you download it, you give certain permissions which include use of microphone and camera. So they can eavesdrop once you turn on your phone.”

“It has cybersecurity implications… Go figure: it’s not being used in China even though it’s an application made in China,” said Padilla, as cybersecurity specialist.

The National Security Agency wants TikTok banned in other critical departments, like foreign affairs and Malacañang.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., dwIZ (882-AM).

Follow me on Facebook: https://tinyurl.com/Jarius-Bondoc

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