US Lags Behind India on Blocking Chinese Apps, Including TikTok

News Analysis India sent a special Valentine’s Day gift to China on Feb. 14. Citing national security reasons, New Delhi banned 54 apps linked to China. These included one from Singapore called “Free Fire,” whose company, the gaming giant Sea, investors punished by wiping out $16 billion of its value. Since 2020, after the Chinese military’s border incursions in the Himalayas, India has banned a total of 321 China-linked apps, including TikTok, WeChat, and Weibo. Other countries should do the same. The social media app TikTok, for example, is experiencing explosive growth globally due to its uncanny ability to predict user interests and short-form video format. However, it perhaps not coincidentally has major security and privacy problems, and is owned by ByteDance, which is based in Beijing. According to a report by Sravasti Dasgupta in The Independent, the apps India most recently banned include the likes of Beauty Camera: Sweet Selfie HD, Viva Video Editor, Rise of Kingdoms: Lost Crusade, Barcode Scanner-QR Code Scan, MoonChat, and Lica Cam. Many are cloned versions of older Chinese apps under a new name to evade previous bans. India’s ministry for electronics and information technology, which did not name China specifically, stated that the apps are now blocked for misuse and transmission of real-time data to a “hostile country” enabling “them to compile huge personal data to mine, collate, analyse and profile by the elements who are hostile to the sovereignty and integrity of India and for activities detrimental to national security.” An Indian federal home ministry report stated that the apps could facilitate surveillance and espionage through the “camera/mic, accessing fine location (GPS) and … malicious network activity similar to previously blocked apps.” Democracies and their allies around the world should follow India’s lead, particularly against TikTok. Members of the City Youth Organization hold posters with the logos of Chinese apps in support of the Indian government for banning the wildly popular video-sharing TikTok app, in Hyderabad, India, on June 30, 2020. India banned another 54 Chinese apps in February 2022. (Noah Seelam/AFP via Getty Images) According to multiple cybersecurity experts in India and a new report from TheWrap, TikTok has an “all-access pass to user data” that bypasses security protocols on the Google Play and Apple App stores. The stores’ normal code audits are avoided by the apps, which is “highly unusual,” according to the report. One expert claimed that TikTok can query material on the device itself, giving the app “carte blanche” access. TikTok means big money and influence for Beijing. While the app is banned in China, advertising revenue in the rest of the world amounted to $3 billion in January 2022. TikTok users spend an average of 19.6 hours per month on the app, which is comparable with Facebook, the world’s first social media app by user time spent. Over the past four years TikTok user engagement has increased by 4.7 times on average, while Facebook’s average engagement was flat. Google, Facebook, and Instagram are under pressure from TikTok’s short-form video format, with Facebook and Instagram’s owner, Meta Platforms Inc., having an increasingly uncertain revenue outlook, in large part due to TikTok’s growth. TikTok now has more than 1 billion active users, while last month Meta revealed its active users had fallen to 2.9 billion. Facebook revenues in the current quarter are down over $1 billion from those predicted by analysts. Meta lost approximately 40 percent of its capitalization over the past six months, including a drop of $220 billion in a single day. While to some readers this may seem just desserts after big tech’s censoring, shadow bans, and demonetizing of conservative thought, new legislation should certainly act to better protect the free speech of users—China’s big tech is far worse. Yet unfortunately, the United States is far behind India in securing Americans from what is not only a threat to their freedom of speech, but a threat to their privacy and national security. While the Trump administration first considered banning TikTok in 2020, it did not succeed. Neither has the Biden administration leaned in on the matter. American tech companies are being forced to lobby Congress to get an even playing field with China tech. The U.S. Commerce Department is proposing a rule change to increase restrictions on foreign-owned apps, including TikTok and WeChat, but this is too little too late. The floodgates were left open and now Chinese apps are so widespread in the United States that banning them will be unpopular with young voters. This puts politicians in a bind. America’s leadership must now screw up its courage, join others across the aisle, and pass bipartisan legislation against China-linked apps. The longer our politicians wait, the harder it will be. Congress should recognize the threat to democracy and user privacy fr

US Lags Behind India on Blocking Chinese Apps, Including TikTok

News Analysis

India sent a special Valentine’s Day gift to China on Feb. 14.

Citing national security reasons, New Delhi banned 54 apps linked to China. These included one from Singapore called “Free Fire,” whose company, the gaming giant Sea, investors punished by wiping out $16 billion of its value.

Since 2020, after the Chinese military’s border incursions in the Himalayas, India has banned a total of 321 China-linked apps, including TikTok, WeChat, and Weibo.

Other countries should do the same. The social media app TikTok, for example, is experiencing explosive growth globally due to its uncanny ability to predict user interests and short-form video format. However, it perhaps not coincidentally has major security and privacy problems, and is owned by ByteDance, which is based in Beijing.

According to a report by Sravasti Dasgupta in The Independent, the apps India most recently banned include the likes of Beauty Camera: Sweet Selfie HD, Viva Video Editor, Rise of Kingdoms: Lost Crusade, Barcode Scanner-QR Code Scan, MoonChat, and Lica Cam. Many are cloned versions of older Chinese apps under a new name to evade previous bans.

India’s ministry for electronics and information technology, which did not name China specifically, stated that the apps are now blocked for misuse and transmission of real-time data to a “hostile country” enabling “them to compile huge personal data to mine, collate, analyse and profile by the elements who are hostile to the sovereignty and integrity of India and for activities detrimental to national security.”

An Indian federal home ministry report stated that the apps could facilitate surveillance and espionage through the “camera/mic, accessing fine location (GPS) and … malicious network activity similar to previously blocked apps.”

Democracies and their allies around the world should follow India’s lead, particularly against TikTok.

Epoch Times Photo
Members of the City Youth Organization hold posters with the logos of Chinese apps in support of the Indian government for banning the wildly popular video-sharing TikTok app, in Hyderabad, India, on June 30, 2020. India banned another 54 Chinese apps in February 2022. (Noah Seelam/AFP via Getty Images)

According to multiple cybersecurity experts in India and a new report from TheWrap, TikTok has an “all-access pass to user data” that bypasses security protocols on the Google Play and Apple App stores. The stores’ normal code audits are avoided by the apps, which is “highly unusual,” according to the report. One expert claimed that TikTok can query material on the device itself, giving the app “carte blanche” access.

TikTok means big money and influence for Beijing. While the app is banned in China, advertising revenue in the rest of the world amounted to $3 billion in January 2022. TikTok users spend an average of 19.6 hours per month on the app, which is comparable with Facebook, the world’s first social media app by user time spent. Over the past four years TikTok user engagement has increased by 4.7 times on average, while Facebook’s average engagement was flat.

Google, Facebook, and Instagram are under pressure from TikTok’s short-form video format, with Facebook and Instagram’s owner, Meta Platforms Inc., having an increasingly uncertain revenue outlook, in large part due to TikTok’s growth.

TikTok now has more than 1 billion active users, while last month Meta revealed its active users had fallen to 2.9 billion. Facebook revenues in the current quarter are down over $1 billion from those predicted by analysts. Meta lost approximately 40 percent of its capitalization over the past six months, including a drop of $220 billion in a single day.

While to some readers this may seem just desserts after big tech’s censoring, shadow bans, and demonetizing of conservative thought, new legislation should certainly act to better protect the free speech of users—China’s big tech is far worse.

Yet unfortunately, the United States is far behind India in securing Americans from what is not only a threat to their freedom of speech, but a threat to their privacy and national security.

While the Trump administration first considered banning TikTok in 2020, it did not succeed. Neither has the Biden administration leaned in on the matter.

American tech companies are being forced to lobby Congress to get an even playing field with China tech. The U.S. Commerce Department is proposing a rule change to increase restrictions on foreign-owned apps, including TikTok and WeChat, but this is too little too late.

The floodgates were left open and now Chinese apps are so widespread in the United States that banning them will be unpopular with young voters. This puts politicians in a bind.

America’s leadership must now screw up its courage, join others across the aisle, and pass bipartisan legislation against China-linked apps. The longer our politicians wait, the harder it will be. Congress should recognize the threat to democracy and user privacy from Beijing, as has India, and ban China’s apps in a more general manner. Start with TikTok.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Anders Corr has a bachelor's/master's in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. His latest books are “The Concentration of Power: Institutionalization, Hierarchy, and Hegemony” (2021) and “Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the South China Sea" (2018).