TikTok, a video-sharing social networks, has seen rapid growth in the United States. But with tensions between Washington and Beijing mounting amid the pandemic, analysts and officials have become increasingly concerned that the app, which is owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, could give the Chinese government access to a wide range of user data.
The United States is not alone. Here are some other countries that have raised alarm over TikTok.
Before India banned TikTok this summer, it was available in 14 languages and had an estimated 200 million users in the country — its largest market outside of China.
The move came after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a border clash with Chinese troops in the Himalayas on June 16. Tensions spiked between the two countries, and India imposed bans on more than 50 Chinese apps, including TikTok and messaging app WeChat.
“Tik Tok continues to comply with all data and security requirements under Indian law,” the platform said in a June statement, adding that it had not shared any information with any foreign government. The statement noted that “hundreds of millions” of people, including performers and storytellers, relied on the app as a source of income.
Forbes estimated that TikTok may suffer a loss of up to $6 billion as a result of the ban.
The European Union
This week, TikTok announced a new “extraordinary achievement”: more than 100 million active users across Europe.
While the app’s popularity soared in countries including France, Spain and Britain, tensions between European governments and China have mounted, with Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, facing a frosty reception when he arrived in Europe for a week-long tour earlier this month.
Italy and France piled on pressure, asking Wang about diminishing freedoms in Hong Kong and Beijing’s treatment of the Muslim-minority Uighurs. In Berlin, the German foreign minister accused him of making threatening comments toward European officials.
The E.U. hasn’t issued any formal ban of TikTok, but the app has come under scrutiny from data protection watchdogs, who launched a probe into its privacy policies in July. The concern from one of the strictest international bodies on data protection echoed those of other countries who were investigating how the app utilizes user information.
TikTok says it has plans to build a data center in Dublin to store the data of U.K. and European users — information now stored in the United States.
A team of lawmakers in Japan is reportedly building a case to take to the Japanese government this month to urge officials to examine Chinese apps in the country and their handling of user data.
Japanese lawmakers from the country’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party say personal information must be protected, and they are seeking to restrict the use of TikTok and other Chinese-owned apps, despite their growing popularity.
“Not only President Trump but also other countries such as the U.K. and India, are gradually becoming aware of the risks,” Akira Amari, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker, said on Fuji Television Network over the weekend, Bloomberg reported. “Since there’re so many countries pointing out the risks, Japan cannot just stand by and watch.”
Australia’s government is conducting investigations into the app, according to media reports. The Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported that Trump ally Prime Minister Scott Morrison has instructed the country’s intelligence agencies and its Department of Home Affairs to investigate the app’s potential security threat and its data and privacy policies.
Last week, Morrison joined the growing chorus of voices demanding that the app remove a video of an American man taking his own life on the platform. Morrison said it was TikTok’s responsibility to stop exposing young people to “horrifying content.”
“My government will be making sure that we do everything to hold you to account,” Morrison warned.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has long sought to tighten his grip on social media, with parliament recently passing legislation that effectively bans Facebook, Twitter and YouTube from operating unless they comply with government plans to regulate key platforms.
From October, all major social media platforms must have a responsive local representative in the country who can comply with court orders and block or take down posts deemed problematic by the government.
Anadolu Agency, Turkey’s state-run news company, announced in July that the country’s Personal Data Protection Authority had began an investigation into TikTok and how the platform handles personal data.
Privacy and geopolitical tension with China are not the only reasons TikTok has run afoul of governments. Indonesia temporarily banned the app in 2018, citing concerns including “pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy.” The ban was lifted less than a week later after the app agreed to censor some of its content.
Pakistan’s government issued a “final warning” to TikTok in July over concerns similar to those of Indonesia, saying the app would be blocked in the country if it did not remove “immoral, obscene, and vulgar content” from the platform. The country, which maintains close ties with China, said its telecommunications authority had issued a previous warning but found unsatisfactory results.
Social media consultant Matt Navarra said Friday that while U.S. users of the app would be in a “frenzy,” following the announcement, TikTok fans around the world would also be on tenterhooks, probably wondering which stars on the platform would disappear in the days and weeks to come.
Navarra also noted that many users would probably try to circumnavigate Trump’s block.
“Searches for VPNs, side-loading apps and other technical workarounds to beat the ban will rocket as users try to figure out ways to feed their TikTok cravings,” he said.
Niha Masih in New Delhi contributed to this report.
This report has been updated.