Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday, 19 July 2020

Tik Tok as dangerous to Britain as Huawei, insist leading Tories

Dominic Raab faces call to punish the abuse of Uighurs
Dominic Raab faces call to punish the abuse of Uighurs
Eleni Courea, Political Reporter
The Times
The Chinese social media app Tik Tok is “as much of a threat” to Britain as Huawei, senior Conservative MPs have warned.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, said he thought that the service should be banned because of its proximity to “Chinese intelligence services”. “There are real serious concerns, as big as with Huawei, over the role that they play,” he said. “Tik Tok is the product of a company called Byte Dance which has roots everywhere at the moment, a bit like Huawei. They’re growing like mad. Everybody is now reviewing the company.”
Tom Tugendhat, the Tory chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said: “Democratic nations need to be more aware of the partners they’re working with and the reputations they have in their own countries. Companies like Byte Dance raise serious questions about who they’re willing to work with and what that co-operation will enable.”
Bob Seely, Tory MP for the Isle of Wight, said that there were “very significant political and data privacy issues” with the app, which the government should examine. “I would certainly have a look at it and if other countries are doing the same thing we need to be careful about it,” he added.
Tik Tok allows users to share short videos and is wildly popular among teenagers. It was the most downloaded app globally in the first quarter of this year. It has, however, been accused of censoring topics sensitive to the Chinese authorities and there are concerns that it shares user data with them.
India has banned it and Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, has said that America was looking at doing the same. He is visiting London this week for talks with MPs and ministers in which Tik Tok is likely to come up.
Proposals to build a global headquarters for Tik Tok in London have been shelved, according to The Sunday Times. Talks between Byte Dance and the Department for International Trade are said to have been paused because of the “wider geopolitical context”. The plan would have created three thousand jobs.
Asked whether China would retaliate, its ambassador Liu Xiaoming told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday that his government did not “want to politicise the economy”. He added: “It’s wrong for the United Kingdom to discriminate against a Chinese company because of pressure from the United States.”
In an article for The Times Red Box today politicians from seven countries call on the government to take a robust approach to China’s human rights abuses against the Uighur Muslim minority in the north of the country. The letter, co-ordinated by Alicia Kearns, a Tory backbencher from the 2019 intake, says that governments should “through bilateral and multilateral engagement, end the violations of human dignity and international law occurring in Xinjiang province”. The letter calls for sanctions against Chinese officials who have carried out or profited from human rights abuses.
Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, said he was looking at courses of action yesterday but that the government needed to “build up an evidence base” to identify those involved first.
Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, called on him to bring forward sanctions and criticised the government for a lack of strategy on China. Asked whether the persecution of Uighurs amounted to genocide, she told The Andrew Marr Show: “Well, it certainly looks that way.” She described the Chinese government’s actions as a “deliberate persecution and killing of a large group of people on the basis of their ethnicity or nationhood”.
Ms Nandy added: “I think that the UK has a role to play in this. You can see how difficult this is from the way that the Chinese ambassador responded to your questions. But one very quick and simple thing that the UK government could and should be doing is to impose sanctions on Chinese officials who are involved in persecuting Uighur, and they could do that tomorrow.”
Shaun Bailey, the Tory candidate for mayor of London, called for an end to the capital’s twinned status with Beijing. “What kind of signal are we sending when we continue a relationship with a government that is seeking to curtail human rights with new security laws in Hong Kong, while overseeing the cruel persecution of its Uighur Muslims?” he said yesterday.
Last week the government said that Huawei would no longer build a large part of Britain’s 5G network and that its equipment would be removed by 2027. The Chinese telecoms giant has always denied that its technology could enable spying.
A spokesman for Tik Tok said:
“There’s a lot of misinformation about Tik Tok out there, but the fact is that millions of British users come to Tik Tok for entertainment, inspiration, and connection. Tik Tok is led by an American CEO and the UK is one of our most important markets globally, with hundreds of employees, a senior leadership team and core business functions based out of our London office.
“We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. Tik Tok UK user data is stored in the US and Singapore and we have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked. There is zero truth to these accusations and we remain fully committed to investing in the UK and continuing to inspire creativity and bring joy to our users here.”
App that spread around world
Tik Tok is a Chinese video-sharing app that is massively popular with under-25s, who make up its core users.
They can livestream and create 15 to 60-second clips, usually set to music or film dialogue. Videos can be liked, commented on, searched for via hashtags and shared with others.
The user-generated content tends not to be too serious, ranging from fashion and food and pets and pranks, along with dance challenges.
Tik Tok — which has the tagline “Make every second count” — is owned by Byte Dance, a technology company founded in 2012 and headquartered in Beijing. The app has 800 million users globally and has been downlo-aded two
billion times.
Critics have warned of Tik Tok’s possible security risks because of its links to the Chinese government.
In China, Tik Tok is known as Douyin, where it was launched in 2016 before being expanded to other markets in 2017 as
Tik Tok. In 2018 Byte Dance merged a video app it acquired called, which is also based in China, with Tik Tok, which was then rolled out to the US.
Tik Tok was the fourth most downloaded non-gaming app in the world in 2018 according to Sensor Tower, an app analytics website. At present Tik Tok employs about 1,000 people in Europe, with the bulk in the UK and Ireland.

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