TikTok might face stand to lose yet another country after the Indian government banned the app along with 58 other Chinese apps on grounds of engaging in activities prejudicial to the sovereignty and integrity of India. The app was also found to be copying contents of the clipboard which was discovered via the new iOS 14 update on Apple devices.
In March, researchers discovered some troubling vulnerabilities in the TikTok app which includes reading text stored in the clipboard which is used by computers to store data that are copied or cut from things like passwords, emails and others. The claim was later verified by the beta release of iOS 14 which comes with a feature of notifying users every time clipboard content is accessed by an app.
Which is what might have prompted the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, to state on national television that the US is “certainly looking at” banning TikTok. as reported by Reuters. Like in India, there’s a growing concern that the app could be used by the Chinese government as a tool of surveillance and propaganda.
TikTok exits Hong Kong after China starts censoring content
And while the US is yet to take a concrete step towards banning the popular short video app, TikTok announced it would be pulling out of Hong Kong, a region that’s facing massive uprising against the Beijing government over a controversial national security law that was recently passed. And since the law came into effect, the Beijing government has been censoring anti-China content from social media.
A 116-page government document was released on Monday night in Hong Kong that revealed the censorship plans. This has put pressure on global social networks like Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Twitter, Telegram, Google and TikTok to comply with censorship requests. And according to reports by agencies, all of them except TikTok has refused to comply. TikTok chose to exit the market.
TikTok cited “in light of recent events” as reasons for pulling out of Hong Kong, without going into details. Being based out of Beijing, the app is frequently cited as a surveillance tool of the Chinese government by country leaders, including Donald Trump. And the new “clipboardgate” is certainly not helping TikTok’s image right now.
A global backlash against TikTok
TikTok has been trying to position itself as a global app, distanced from the Chinese ownership and origin. It has also denied censoring content for the Chinese government on the platform. But it’s the company’s response to the events in Hong Kong that will be crucial.
Internet companies from China routinely face scrutiny because of the country’s intelligence laws, which vaguely mandates every organisation to comply with Beijing’s ‘intelligence needs’. They simply have no choice but to comply.
Yet, the appeal of the app has made it a global phenomenon. The app has been downloaded more than 2 billion times, commanding more downloads than the social media juggernauts owned by Facebook. Users have been taken in by the simplistic UI, and the ability to make content viral and command a large follower base by posting short, creative videos.
TikTok now has three options ahead of it, in response to the Hong Kong — Complying with Beijing’s request and censor data, refuse to do so, or just exit voluntarily and avoid controversy.