The TikTok controversy, as the Economist put it, is ‘a test of whether global internet can remain intact as US-China relations deteriorate’.
The background of the TikTok controversy is geopolitics and the forthcoming US elections. There is concern that TikTok could be used to influence elections.
The protection of privacy is sometimes indicated as the main risk from TikTok. However, this is not the case now as TikTok data is publicly available for scrapping.
However, the main concern of the US political elite is the potential manipulation of US users by this Chinese company. For example, a quarter of US users use TikTok as a news source.
TikTok algorithms that could be used for manipulation are developed mainly in Beijing.
There are a few things that TikTok can do to address the risk of being shut down by US authorities, including:
- Having data held by Oracle, as TikTok has already been doing since the legal action by the Trump administration
- Letting third parties inspect TikTok algorithms, including showing the source code and allowing ongoing inspection
According to the Economist, ‘TikTok should be ultimately responsible to an independent board of its own, with members from outside China.’
China is likely to oppose requests for inspections of TikTok’s algorithms, which may lead to TikTok and other digital companies being shut down by the USA and other Western countries. The outcome of the TikTok political controversy will have far-reaching consequences for a global internet.