For months, US President Trump has been using the TikTok app, keeping details of the reasons unclear. So when the official executive order erupted last week, no one knew what to think.
Trump's order demands the complete cessation of all US transactions with its parent company TikTok until September 20, on national security issues that remain unclear. Many observers see this as a tactic to speed up talks with Microsoft. But if banning TikTok is a trading tactic, it is extremely dangerous.
The acquisition of Microsoft could be done with many different ways. If the deal collapses, banks will be forced to sever ties with TikTok as soon as the September 20 deadline expires, disrupting the company's day-to-day operations. The damage will not be total or immediate, but it is hard to imagine that the US company TikTok will be able to survive in this chaos.
A social network used by millions of people is going to be banned by a presidential firm, without public evidence of crimes, only with constitutional restrictions by the executive.
The fact that this action seems to be legal makes it very ugly. If Trump carried out his threat, the result would be a disastrous precedent for US software and a worrying milestone in how the US works in relation to corruption.
The most worrying thing is that there is no clear indication of what is happening. TikTok has been under national security review for about a year. The examination is conducted within the framework of the United States Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States).
However, this executive order is far from the usual CFIUS procedure and there is simply no evidence that the jury found anything unusual.
Η executive order mentions a bunch of generalities like data collection or the possibility of misinformation, but there is nothing that does not apply to dozens of other applications.
The White House did not provide any evidence of improper TikTok data collection or of strong links between ByteDance and the Chinese government.
If nothing else, we have seen the opposite: a recent CIA assessment that posted by The New York Times found no evidence that the application had been used by Chinese spy agencies to track data.
The US has pushed Chinese technology companies' interests in the past, but there has never been an emergency order like this. No president has ever declared the existence of a program on American devices as a national emergency. And while Microsoft's sale seems to offer a way out for TikTok, there's also a public 45-day time limit to add extra pressure to a weird deal. These are unprecedented measures and there is no explanation as to why the use of TikTok is of particular concern.
The obvious precedent is the ban on Huawei, but TikTok is different in many critical ways. The concern with Huawei was in the network hardware: devices that can not be adequately controlled or monitored once integrated into the network. Telephone networks are a long-term point of interest for national security and so the government has an active role in the system. But none of this applies to consumer applications on consumer phones.
At the same time, Trump gave many reasons for concern about corrupt motives in the recent change.
Interest in TikTok began after the president's campaign in Tulsa in July, which was accused (rightly or wrongly) of campaigning against Trump for his meager turnout in TikTok.
Apart from this particular incident, it is unusual for such a big controversy to start just three months before the election, which suggests that the president can use it as a political ploy, maximizing the drama. After the devastating trade war, the TikTok app may be Trump's only chance for a political victory over China.
But there are a number of other confusing issues. Trump asked explicitly allocate money to the US Treasury Department if the Microsoft agreement is passed. In a strange coincidence, Facebook launches the competitor of TikTok through Instagram at the same time that the future of the rival social network is being questioned.
None of the above may be true, but they are concerns that are usually overcome through transparency and adherence to established procedures. With Trump, there does not seem to be transparency or established procedures. As is often the case with national security movements, the public is asked to trust the president's decision. But now there are clear reasons why there is no trust.
Because there does not seem to be a logical path to all of the above, we should probably think logically. Why does Washington care about TikTok?
I do not support ByteDance or its affiliates, but the app has brought together a community that deserves respect. Destroying this community would not be as enjoyable as banning a book or destroying a movie.
The article was published in theverge.com