Why the U.S. Should Ban TikTok due to AI Ethics Breach

When it comes to AI ethics around the use of facial recognition, China does not have a good record. As India has banned Chinese apps including TikTok, the one that went viral in 2019 and 2020 that uses AI to recommend micro videos, Australia and the U.S. are likely to be next.

Kevin Mayer left Disney recently to join ByteDance as CEO of TikTok, but you cannot separate TikTok, from its parent company with an HQ located in Beijing. If this company isn’t helping export China’s police surveillance capitalism play, I don’t know what is.

It’s the greatest PR stunt by ByteDance I’ve seen yet. TikTok announced recently it will leave Hong Kong. The problem is of course Hong Kong doesn’t matter, Hong Kong is lost. The Hong Kong region is a small, loss-making market for the company, with barely 200,000 users. If Australia and the U.S. joined India in their ban, China will finally hear the message around AI ethics.

The Indian government banned Chinese-owned TikTok, along with dozens of other mobile apps, over alleged data and privacy issues in late June, 2020. However as Huawei and ByteDance have both been implicated in the brutal repression of Muslim minorities in Xinjiang with their tech, ethics really matters in the future of AI.

As China seeks to export its own version of surveillance capitalism, it’s making political enemies with its rants that are impacting its business bottom lines. The lack of data transparency, honesty and safeguards in the spread of Covid-19 were bad enough, but China is losing credibility with its apps in the cold-tech wars where ByteDance is largely seen behind Huawei, as a national security threat.

The U.S. is “looking at” banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday.

Washington has been on a campaign against Chinese technology firms, with Huawei and ByteDance in the cross-hairs. TikTok is just the Western version of Douyin, a popular app made by ByteDance. It’s not a separate company. It should not be “distancing itself” from Beijing, it gets orders from Beijing, its HQ is there.

ByteDance is an AI company, and while it focuses on Gen Z with apps, education, gaming and digital advertising, it’s the most valuable AI startup in the world.

If TikTok is banned in India, Australia and the U.S. its trajectory is impacted in 2021. But TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, has also been, since last year, on the radar of the U.S. intelligence community and Government.

The Trump administration still appears skeptical of TikTok. When asked by Fox News if Americans should download the social media app, Pompeo said: “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” ByteDance also has a history of disrespecting child and teen privacy laws.

TikTok has previously said that U.S. user data is stored in the United States, with a backup in Singapore. The company also said that its data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of their data is subject to Chinese law. The problem is of course TikTok isn’t a company, it’s just a branch of ByteDance that the Chinese State has total control over.

China’s abuses of facial recognition technology are too many to name, and it’s only 2020. If we are to get AI ethics right, it has to be from a global consensus on what that means. TikTok cannot pretend it’s not from China nor can it pretend it’s not an AI company, it has to take responsibility.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on July 6th that it’s looking into banning TikTok. China’s tech dynasty will only become more powerful in global influence in the years ahead. ByteDance is a company that impacts the future of human rights online as an AI leader for an entire generation.

China’s national security law in Hong Kong and its treatment of its minorities in its Western Province using tech companies as weapons of persecution shows the dark side of China’s growing power. TikTok as a vector for censorship and surveillance is now well known.

TikTok was downloaded 315 million times in the U.S. in the first three months of this year, more quarterly downloads than any other app in history, according to analytics company Sensor Tower. ByteDance, founded by Chinese serial entrepreneur Zhang Yiming in 2012, has been working to disassociate TikTok from its Chinese ownership and Beijing censorship. While the startup is a great success, I’m afraid that plan specifically has failed in 2020.

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