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Taiwan calls TikTok ‘harmful to national security’

TikTok (Dreamstime/TNS)
December 10, 2022

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Taiwan has joined several U.S. states in banning TikTok from communication devices in the public sector on security concerns over the world’s most downloaded app.

Taiwanese media reported earlier this week that the video-hosting service and its Chinese version Douyin, both owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, have been restricted from being installed and used in government offices and on public devices.

An unnamed official from the Taiwanese Ministry of Digital Affairs (MODA) was quoted as saying that the government deems the apps “harmful against national information security.”

Another Chinese-run social platform, Xiaohongshu, has also been banned.

It is unclear whether the restriction will also be applied to personal devices such as mobile phones.

Before this, the Taiwanese government already banned China’s iQiyi and Tencent from operating streaming platforms  on the island. Digital content made in China and transmitted to Taiwan via the internet by other companies, some based in a third country, was also banned as of Sept. 3.

China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and Beijing has been accused of waging an aggressive cognitive war against the island.

Lin Ying-ta, professor of information engineering at Taiwan’s National Chiao Tung University, told RFA in a previous interview that iQiyi, Tencent’s WeTV and other Chinese platforms are “ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”

“These platforms could collect users’ personal information on the server side and may break through information security protocols on the mobile or user side,” Lin said.

US states ban TikTok

The move by the Taiwanese regulators followed similar decisions by a growing number of Republican-led states in the U.S.

This week South Carolina, Texas and Maryland announced they were blocking access to TikTok from all state government electronic devices including state-issued mobile phones and computers.

In Arkansas, legislation seeking to ban state employees and contractors from using or downloading TikTok on state-owned or state-leased devices has also been introduced.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said in a letter  that government officials “have warned that TikTok poses a clear and present danger to its users, and a growing bi-partisan coalition in Congress is pushing to ban access to TikTok in the United States.”

Meanwhile the state of Indiana on Wednesday sued TikTok for “misleading its users, particularly children, about the level of inappropriate content and security of consumer information.”

The short-form video-sharing app is also banned in India and blocked in several other countries.

TikTok is believed to have around one billion active users worldwide, among which 85 million are in the United States.

The company has repeatedly rejected security concerns, saying they are “largely fueled by misinformation about our company.”

In a separate development, it has been alleged that some 700 private Taiwanese surveillance cameras containing chips made in China are visible online due to security vulnerabilities.

The Taiwan News online newspaper reported that footage from Taiwanese residents’ private surveillance cameras using chips made by a subsidiary of Huawei is readily accessible to the public via live camera directories such as Insecam.

The semiconductors were made by HiSilicon, a Shenzhen-based company owned by Huawei.