Time’s up for TikTok in Ottawa

Image by: Katharine Sung

Surrendering our privacy is normal these days, but it shouldn’t be taken so lightly. 

The decision to ban TikTok on Canadian federal devices follows a precedent set by other Western nations after years of suspicion around the popular social media app and its ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Privacy concerns have long been synonymous with TikTok, yet millions of users have remained undeterred. 

Even if it doesn’t directly affect most of us, the ban is an unwelcome reminder of the privacy we surrender to TikTok and its associated bodies—including an unfriendly foreign government that may have attempted to interfere in our politics—as well as other platforms.

Having an online presence is becoming more and more difficult to avoid, and comes at an invisible, but important cost: personal information. We shouldn’t be tempted to assume our data isn’t valuable and use that assumption to justify a lack of concern for online privacy. 

Our individual data contributes to a much larger picture that can be manipulated for nefarious use. 

It’s fun to joke about how much our phones know about us, but personal and government information in the wrong hands is no laughing matter. 

This spotlight on TikTok shouldn’t lead us to ignore or accept privacy and security problems inherent to other platforms such as Facebook, which has proven itself a useful tool for voter manipulation in the past. However, the fact the CCP can access data collected by the app through its state-regulated parent company ByteDance is significant and sets TikTok apart. 

Ottawa is right to protect government information and that of federal employees. However, we should be wary of a potential rise in xenophobia and anti-Asian racism resulting from this issue and others, like the recent shooting down of suspected Chinese surveillance balloons over the United States. We can be concerned about Canada’s relationship with China without being hateful. 

Ultimately, media literacy is the general public’s best defense against misinformation and manipulative use of personal data. 

If most of us are going to keep using TikTok and social media in general, helping people resist confirmation bias and identify false information is as important as ever. Users should be informed not only of the data apps like TikTok track, but where the data goes, and the implications of its use so they can decide for themselves.  

However, without an incentive to be transparent, TikTok will probably never tell us what it really does with our data or who exactly gets to access it. The tech company has allowed journalists’ personal information to be accessed by employees of its parent company in the past. 

This decision to keep TikTok off federal devices is about maintaining the privacy of government information from outside bodies. It shows Canada will act to protect this information and encourages healthy suspicion about personal data collection and use. 

It’s time to reconsider how we value our own data and become more aware of why it’s collected and how it could be used. Whether or not we decide to follow Jagmeet Singh’s lead and break up with TikTok, the alarm bells have sounded. 


China, federal government, Privacy, Social media, TikTok

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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