Is TikTok really evil? Maybe the witch hunt needs to start elsewhere, Will Guyatt writes

1 March 2023, 13:47

Will Guyatt asks if TikTok is really evil
Will Guyatt asks if TikTok is really evil. Picture: Global
Will Guyatt, technology correspondent

By Will Guyatt, technology correspondent

What a difference a year makes, less than 12 months ago former PM Boris Johnson was promising Tik Tok followers that he wouldn’t be doing any dancing on the new No.10 account.

Today, our government and others around the world, including the US, Canada and even the EU are now banning TikTok from state-owned smartphones and devices due to apparent security concerns over data.

Politicians are even suggesting users might want to delete the app due to the ridiculous suggestion that it's really a trojan horse for the Chinese state to brainwash the West.

Tik Tok is a global phenomenon – it’s the first Chinese-owned app to truly crossover, with the service now used by almost 2bn people – with an estimated 10m Brits already regularly using it, but with the current news cycle, it’s not hard to believe Tik Tok could have already reached its peak.

So, is Tik Tok really evil? On current evidence – no.

Because without specific guidance on security concerns, or factual proof from wide-eyed US senators who don’t know their Android from their elbow it’s still possible to chalk this up as a Xenophobic overreaction at a time of increased global tension. 

As my LBC colleague Nick Abbot mused in a recent conversation – could Western tech companies be whispering in political ears, as they see the Chinese newcomer taking more and more of their lunch money?

Central to current claims is the continued suggestion that no Chinese company is truly independent from the country’s communist leadership, and when push comes to shove, would always share data and information to strengthen Chinese interests. 

It’s strange how this has suddenly become such a burning concern in 2023 – at least 20 years after we simply stopped making stuff in the West – and relied on China to do the job for us, at a fraction of the cost – hence why police stations across the UK are up to their metaphorical necks in Chinese CCTV equipment, and former PM David Cameron signed a deal letting China get involved in our energy infrastructure.

Despite Tiktok’s owner Bytedance continually refuting suggestions about its security – and doing what it can to calm increasingly hysterical ministers with fact, the stench doesn’t appear to be clearing.

Tik Tok is the strangest place to begin a pushback on China. 

If the West really wants to do it – there’s far bigger places to start repealing Chinese involvement in the West than an app.  Many of you will be viewing this story on your shiny new Apple iPhone 14 smartphone – US originated but built with more Chinese components than ever before. 

Maybe the witch hunt needs to start elsewhere?