Archive for March 19, 2023

Let’s Say You Want To Ban TikTok Outright… How Would It Be Done?

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 19, 2023 by itnerd

I’ve been talking a lot about Chinese owned TikTok being banned in various places. Most of these bans relate to devices with access to some sort of government network. But the stakes are about to go up for TikTok as the US is looking to ban the social media app outright. If that were to happen, how would such a ban be implemented? I have some thoughts on how that could work:

  1. Apple and Google would be required to stop offering the app for download: This one is easy as both companies can do this easily. Not only that, they can do this on a geographical basis. By that I mean that they could enforce a ban in the US by making TikTok “disappear” in the US. Though I suspect that any sort of ban would spread elsewhere, which means that they would have to do this in more places. But as I said earlier, this is easy for either company.
  2. Apple and Google would be required to remove TikTok from phones: This is where things start to get tricky. I can’t imagine that any ban on TikTok would be effective if the app were still on people’s phones. Thus I can see a scenario where TikTok was instantly “Thanos Snapped” off of every phone the moment that the ban went into effect. I imagine that both Apple and Google have the ability to do this as mobile device management programs that companies use to manage smartphones can do this. Where things become very tricky is that I can see a scenario where people might sue Apple, Google, or the government because they would feel that nobody has the right to remove apps from their phones. It is possible that both Apple and Google have language in their terms of service that nobody reads that allows them to do that. But even if they do, I suspect that a court will have to sort this out.
  3. Apple and Google would be required to stop people from “side loading” TikTok: Here’s another tricky part of this whole discussion. Side loading. Which is the act of loading an app that isn’t on an App Store onto your device. If you’re on team Apple, you’ll need to do a function called “jailbreaking” to get past Apple’s restrictions on this sort of thing. And that’s not a trivial task for 95% of Apple iPhone users. That to me suggests that Apple likely doesn’t have much to worry about on this front. The real challenge is with team Android who have made “side loading” a sport because it’s not all that difficult to do. Google would have to figure out how to shut that down to ensure that they comply with a ban of TikTok. Which given the diversity of the Android platform may be difficult or next to impossible to do.

Now it is entirely possible that TikTok may avoid an outright ban, making this all irrelevant. But I don’t think so. The US is really intent on taking it to TikTok, and US allies will likely follow suit. Thus I hope that Apple and Google are planning for this as I am sure that a ban of TikTok is coming, and they will need to respond.