GIF by TikTok Brasil on GIPHY

Tik Tok Tech Nationalism

It seems the time for digital protectionism has arrived

From Sunday the 20th of September 2020 Americans won’t be able to download TikTok or WeChat. MIT Technology Review stresses that this was due to an order issued by Trump:

“This announcement enforces an executive order issued by President Trump on August 6, which gave TikTok 45 days to sell its US business to an American company or face a ban.”

However, TikTok will keep running until the 12th of November, which means it will keep running through the US election.

In many ways this is the will of the President, a will that has been bent on enforcing borders.

June this year I wrote about the increased focus on digital borders, considering how drawing ‘lines in the sand’ or simply on the map has been a practice of power for long. Although this was a discussion of the digital borders of Europe, it does not become any less relevant in this regard.

This is all a rather special situation.

The US has claimed that it does not have the same controlling government

Here are a few points also mentioned in the MIT Technology Review mentions three very important points [bold added]:

  1. A deal is currently in negotiations with Oracle, Walmart, and other investors to give US companies a majority stake in order to satisfy Trump’s demands and keep the app running smoothly in the US.
  2. Trump expressed his disapproval of any configuration where ByteDance retains a majority stake. By pushing the deal deadline further out, rather than imposing an outright ban as was initially threatened, the administration is signalling that it believes an agreement satisfying all parties will be secured by November 12 at the latest.
  3. Beijing will need to sign off on any deal too, thanks to new export rules in China that mean certain tech businesses must secure government approval before selling to overseas investors. These rules hadn’t been updated since 2008 but were refreshed last month, semi-explicitly in response to the maneuvers over TikTok in the US.

As such a technology industry of social media that seemed private to some extent – well, clearly it is very much influenced by the intentions of nation states (or political leadership).

Look at how things turned out.

Trump’s digital border patrol?

GIF by Chris Gannon

One could have argued this was to prevent Chinese interference in elections. However, with the data being pushed to after the Chinese election this is not at all much of an argument.

Are these simply power plays?

What just happened?

It is said this is about national security.

However, as MIT Technology Review mentions it is not as simple:

“Somewhat ironically, by preventing TikTok’s millions of US users from receiving patches, the administration is leaving them open to any security vulnerabilities uncovered in the next couple of months. TikTok fixed four security bugs that could have let attackers hijack user accounts just last week.”

Still, this sets a precedent in terms of government control over technology.

“The Commerce Department is using Trump’s order as the legal basis to ban any provision of internet services, like hosting, that let WeChat work smoothly in the US — and TikTok, too…”

Not only this…

All the people that were using WeChat to talk to their friends in China.

All the interpersonal relationships between US and Chinese citizens.

Trump are breaking those off.

I am not sure if we know right now how polarising this move can be.

“US, WeChat looks all but guaranteed to stop working in just two days, cutting off its roughly 19 million daily users from a multipurpose app they use to work, research, and talk to family and friends.”

It seems the clock just hit tech nationalism.

This is #500daysofAI and you are reading article 472. I am writing one new article about or related to artificial intelligence every day for 500 days.

AI Policy and Ethics at www.nora.ai. Student at University of Copenhagen MSc in Social Data Science. All views are my own. twitter.com/AlexMoltzau

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