Such a move — which the president said could come through the usage of executive powers — would place the U.S. among several countries that have succeeded in ousting the app over cybersecurity or privacy concerns.
According to Queen’s University professor David Skillicorn, TikTok’s data collection practices are used by most, if not all, major social media companies. The risk, according to Skillicorn, however, is that such data could potentially be handed over to China, given that TikTok is owned by Chinese company Bytedance.
“So when push comes to shove, they can be forced to surrender all their data to the Chinese government, and that’s a fairly obvious concern, at least on the international level,” said Skillicorn in an interview with Global News on Friday.
The Trump administration’s move to ban the popular app over cybersecurity concerns has raised the same question for their neighbours north of the border — will the Canadian government make moves to restrict the app as well?
In response to questions from Global News, a spokesperson from Public Safety Canada did not directly address whether officials were considering it.
“We live in a highly connected world and now more than ever, information technology plays an incredibly important role in all of our lives,” read a statement from the agency on Sunday. “Our government continues to work in close collaboration with agencies and leaders in the technology sector to ensure Canadians follow best practices to be safe online and that our systems are secure.”
“Canadians can be confident in the work performed by our security agencies, who will not hesitate to act in order to keep our country safe.”
The Communications Security Establishment, Canada’s agency that protects against potential cyber threats, said that they were not a regulatory agency, and could neither endorse nor ban social media applications as well.
Canada could be “taking a very impulsive” decision
Abishur Prakash, a geopolitical futurist at the Center for Innovating the Future in Toronto, said the decision-making process behind banning TikTok is a lot more complex than the privacy concerns surrounding it.
According to Prakash, America’s incentive to oust Chinese technology firms ZTE, Huawei and now TikTok comes in the form of political optics, as well as throwing the business models of foreign competitors into disarray.
“This is also a move by the U.S., by the Trump administration, to also protect itself from a new kind of election interference. We talk about foreign interference in the 2016 election through state-sponsored advertisements, cyberattacks etc., well, this is now the emergence of a very new form,” said Prakash, who referenced the alleged use of TikTok to sabotage Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla.
Canada itself is already enveloped in a political spat with the Chinese government over the extradition of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, as well as China’s imprisonment of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, which was widely viewed as retaliatory.
Despite the current tensions between Ottawa and Beijing, Prakash said that he could still see Canada “taking a very impulsive route towards” a decision on whether or not to ban the app.
“I can see with USMCA, with (the) Arctic, with coronavirus, with all of these major transformations on the foreign policy plate of Ottawa that a ban on TikTok could be viewed as almost viewed as not a big deal — just do it and move on — which is completely the wrong approach.”
How would China respond?
Human rights abuses in China’s Xinjiang region, the newly implemented Hong Kong security law and tensions over the spread of the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, have also pushed global criticism against China to the forefront.
Several countries such as India and Pakistan have already removed the social media platform, while Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE have faced widespread bans or shutdowns across the world.
“If you’re in the Chinese government, and you’re looking at a map, and you’re just looking at, ‘how are my companies being treated around the world?’ … one thing is clear is that Chinese technology companies are under siege around the world, and the government of China is yet to retaliate,” said Prakash.
Depending on how aggressive China wants to react to such bans, Prakash said retaliation could come in the form of either barring a western company like Apple outright, telling its venture capitalists to stop investing in foreign industries or exerting its power through the monopolization of technology systems worldwide. Prakash believes the latter option looks to be what China is doing in the long-term.
“There are so many ways this retaliation can take place and it’s really up to the toll that Chinese state officials want to take.”