Biden Campaign Bans TikTok

The China-based app has raised concerns surrounding security and privacy

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Joe Biden staffers have been banned from using TikTok on both their personal and work phones. The ban comes after a series of worries surrounding privacy and security on the app. 

In an email from Biden’s general counsel, Dana Remus – which was obtained by Bloomberg – campaign staffers were told to “refrain from downloading and using TikTok on work and personal devices.” 

It has become apparent that TikTok can access your phone’s clipboard on iOS, which may spell trouble for anyone keeping sensitive login information or using a password manager on their devices. Besides this, TikTok has been accused of censoring content critical of China and having too much of an influence in the United States. 

The Biden campaign is only next in the line of government officials to ban the Chinese-owned app. So far, the US departments of State and Homeland Security, the US Army, and the US Navy have already banned TikTok on government issued-devices, while the Democratic and Republican national committees have warned against using the app, reports The Verge. The Whitehouse has also announced a potential ban on the app which, President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, said could come in “weeks, not months.”

Financial services company Wells Fargo has already told employees not to use TikTok. The app was also banned in India, along with other China-based apps like WeChat. According to The Verge, Amazon sent out an email asking employees not to use TikTok, before backtracking, stating that the message was sent “in error”.

This seems to be a solution to a potential problem, though it’s not confirmed that TikTok harvests users’ information differently to other social media apps like Facebook and Instagram. 

TikTok is owned by a Beijing-based company called ByteDance. The short-form video sharing app was rolled out as part of a strategy to grow the company’s global audience. As Motherboard suggests, it’s difficult to decipher whether opposition to the app is “American protectionism [because TikTok is a legitimate competitor to YouTube and Facebook]…legitimate fear of surveillance and foreign influence…. [or] xenophobia.”

According to Motherboard, who heard from a digital human rights expert from Access Now, Peter Micek, banning TikTok is a human rights violation. 

“Any motivated actor, from a government to a malicious hacker or disgruntled employee, has reason to drive a dump truck through the loopholes in TikTok’s terms of service,” Micek stated in an email to Motherboard. “Only comprehensive data protection regulations, and able and well-resourced enforcement, can reduce this exploitation.”

But, he continued, “banning apps is an extreme measure that does not meet international human rights standards.

“Under international human rights law, blocking an entire service or application is not regarded as necessary and proportionate and has been declared unlawful in several instances.”

As far as we know – given any evidence that the app is a threat to privacy and security is completely classified, similar to Chinese technology company Huawei – TikTok isn’t doing anything distinct to America-based social media apps. Speaking to Motherboard, a TikTok spokesperson made it clear that TikTok is headed by an American CEO as well as having a significant number of employees “tasked with safety, security, product, and public policy.” 

“We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users,” the spokesperson told Motherboard. “We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

“TikTok collects much less U.S. user information than many of the companies in our space and stores it in the U.S. and Singapore. 

We have not, and would not, give it to the Chinese government.”