TikTok Bans Are Ineffectual Without Real Privacy Oversight gizmodo.com

Rachel Gilmore, writing for Global News on February 27:

The Canadian government is banning the use of the popular short-form video application TikTok on all government-issued mobile devices, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier announced on Monday.

Effective Tuesday, TikTok “will be removed from government-issued mobile devices,” Fortier said in a statement.

“Following a review of TikTok, the Chief Information Officer of Canada determined that it presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security,” she added.

This comes days after the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada announced it was beginning an investigation into TikTok’s practices. Bans on government devices have been reciprocated at the provincial and municipal levels.

Nick Logan, CBC News:

The government has not indicated it wants to widen the ban but there are discussions in the U.S. about banning TikTok outright and preventing ByteDance from doing business there.

Kristen Csenkey, a PhD candidate at the University of Waterloo’s Balsillie School of International Affairs, sees problems with this because of the app’s roles as both a social platform and a source of income for millions of people.

“We need to consider what the implications are,” she said. “It’s not just a technology or an app that’s just used for one purpose.”

Thomas Germain, Gizmodo:

Some 28,251 apps use TikTok’s software development kits, (SDKs), tools which integrates apps with TikTok’s systems—and send TikTok user data — for functions like ads within TikTok, logging in, and sharing videos from the app. That’s according to a search conducted by Gizmodo and corroborated by AppFigures, an analytics company. But apps aren’t TikTok’s only source of data. There are TikTok trackers spread across even more websites. The type of data sharing TikTok is doing is just as common on other parts of the internet.

You have probably seen me and others make similar arguments before, and the reality of this situation has not changed since. The way online advertising is structured has made it impossible to create privacy for users on a case-by-case or app-by-app basis. There is too much information being collected about too many people at all times to make that a viable response. Despite increasing attempts at legislation, the United States remains a haven for the kinds of businesses which depend on subverting our expectations of privacy. Even in countries like Canada — with provincial and national privacy laws — there is work to be done. Perfect is the enemy of good, as they say, so if a national ban of TikTok were a productive effort for improving individual privacy, I think it would be a worthwhile step to take. But it would only be theatre.

Even if there were a coordinated response in countries that view China as an antagonist — the U.S., Canada, E.U. nations, the U.K., and so on — to prohibit TikTok and its SDKs, it would be a waiting game until the next big app from a developer with connections to the Chinese government. In the meantime, that government could happily acquire vast amounts of individualized information from the existing online advertising and data broker markets. It would be a response that, at the very least, has the appearance of new Red Scare xenophobia, yet has little actual benefit to user privacy.


If the US government starts blocking traffic from going to a particular company, or country for that matter, it starts to look a lot like practices the US has spent years criticizing China for. The so-called “great firewall of China” sets up significant filters that censor and monitor the Chinese internet, keeping out businesses that pose threats to the nation’s economy and political control. If you ask the Chinese Communist Party why it does this, it will tell you it’s for the good of the Chinese people, and it protects national security concerns. It also limits free expression.

About that.