TikTok on the Clock: Navigating the Crossroads of Privacy, Security, and Governance in the Digital Age


TikTok, launched globally in 2017 by ByteDance, a Chinese tech company, has become a major player in the social media landscape. Users across the world create and share videos from 15 seconds to three minutes long, featuring dances, skits, lessons, and personal anecdotes. The platform’s easy-to-use editing tools and personalized content feed have contributed to its addictiveness and widespread appeal. Today, TikTok has hundreds of millions of active users globally and is one of the most downloaded apps worldwide.

Concerns over data privacy, national security, and misinformation have led to increased regulatory efforts against TikTok. Countries worry that ByteDance might share user data with the Chinese government and that the platform could be used to spread false information. For instance, India banned TikTok in 2020, significantly impacting ByteDance’s market reach. Additionally, they are concerned that China might spread false information through TikTok’s content recommendations, a worry that has intensified in the U.S. during the Israel-Hamas conflict (Maheshwari & Holpuch, 2024).

The U.S. government has considered various actions, including bans and demands for TikTok to divest its U.S. operations. In response, TikTok introduced a popup feature for American users. This popup, which appears when users try to share articles about TikTok’s data controversies, presents the company’s side of the story directly to its users. American reactions to the government’s stance and TikTok’s popup have been mixed, with some supporting the government’s cautious approach and others criticizing it for potentially limiting free speech. This blog post will explore how the TikTok case affects digital policy and governance, focusing on personal privacy, data security, and national security. It aims to clearly understand the complex dynamics at play in this ongoing digital conflict.

Digital Policy and Governance in the Era of Social Media

Digital policy and governance involve rules and practices that manage the digital world. This includes the internet, online platforms, and digital communication. These policies are essential for making sure that digital technology helps society, supports fair competition, protects privacy, and keeps the country safe.

The importance of digital policy and governance lies in their capacity to address the ethical, legal, and social implications of rapid technological advancements. In her groundbreaking book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” Shoshana Zuboff emphasizes how contemporary technologies frequently contradict our conventional notions of privacy and personal space by turning personal data into a commodity in the absence of strong regulatory oversight (Zuboff, 2019).

Governments and regulators have a crucial role in overseeing digital platforms. Their responsibilities include enforcing laws and regulations that protect consumers and the public interest while creating an environment conducive to innovation and growth. The government ensures digital platforms do not misuse consumer data and maintain users’ privacy rights. Many social media platforms and online features require users to provide phone numbers, email, and other identity information to complete registration or to check some terms during the login process that allow the platform to track user activities. Here, one comes to the privacy paradox: ‘Although people say they care very much about privacy, they behave as if they did not’ (Francis & Francis, 2017, p. 46).

Regulatory bodies oversee digital platforms to stop monopolistic behaviors and maintain fair competition. They review mergers and acquisitions to avoid any unfair competitive edges, according to antitrust rules. National security is also crucial, particularly with platforms like TikTok. Authorities must ensure that foreign ownership of digital platforms does not threaten national security. This can involve evaluating risks and possibly implementing bans or restrictions, as seen with the debates in the U.S. about TikTok’s data practices.

Governments also push for ethical standards in how digital platforms operate. This covers dealing with algorithmic bias that might cause discrimination or spread misinformation. For instance, Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok) has numerous slimming and face-slimming videos. Extended viewing of such content can skew a user’s view of what a healthy body looks like.

Technology is evolving astonishingly in today’s digital age, creating unique challenges for existing digital governance frameworks. The dilemma of Internet regulation can be seen from the fact that Tikok is subject to different restrictions, bans, and removals from many countries. Global platforms have different regulatory challenges in different countries and legal systems. We refer to the internet as inter-jurisdictional because it is governed by many international laws, many of which are inapplicable to users abroad (Beckett, n.d.).

Key Issues in Digital Policy and Governance

Data Privacy

“Regardless of one’s view of privacy, it is clear that there are mounting issues in societies where: much existing kinds of information are now held in digital form; and new kinds of information, premised on digital platforms, are being created, held, and brought to bear across many aspects of everyday, private, and public life (Goggin et al., 2017). TikTok collects personal data like location, what you watch, and biometric information. This data helps improve its suggestions and user experience.

Governments have been closely watching TikTok. They worry it might share data with the Chinese government, as China’s laws might require. In the EU and U.S., investigations check if TikTok follows local data privacy laws. This concern has sparked talks about tough rules to ensure TikTok and similar apps follow local data privacy standards. It also affects broader debates on who controls data and how it moves across borders.

Data Security

Data security involves protecting digital data, such as those in a database, from destructive forces and the unwanted actions of unauthorized users, such as a data breach or cyberattacks. Platforms like TikTok handle enormous volumes of data, making them prime targets for breaches. Several high-profile data breaches have occurred over the years; the biggest data breach happened between 2013 and 2016 and affected almost 3 billion user accounts. Personal data, including dates of birth, phone numbers, email addresses, hashed passwords, and, in certain situations, security questions and answers, were all accessible to hackers (The 72 Biggest Data Breaches of All Time [Updated 2024] | UpGuard, n.d.).

National Security

The potential for foreign control over domestic data poses a national security risk. This is particularly concerning in cases where the controlling company is based in a country with a conflicting geopolitical agenda or different legal frameworks regarding data privacy. The U.S. government has expressed concerns that TikTok, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, could be compelled to turn over data to the Chinese government under laws requiring companies to cooperate with state intelligence work. These concerns have led to discussions about banning the app, forcing its sale to U.S. investors, or imposing stringent regulations to manage the risks. The situation underscores the complexities of global tech governance and the intersection of technology with international politics and national security.

Regulatory Approaches to TikTok

Senator Josh Hawley has proposed banning TikTok from all devices issued by thefederal government, Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

The U.S. Approach to TikTok

Former U.S. President Trump signed an executive order in an attempt to ban TikTok, citing national security concerns and concerns that the Chinese government may obtain U.S. user data. The measure sparked widespread legal and political controversy, particularly over restrictions on freedom of expression and market access. The bans faced legal challenges and were ultimately not fully implemented. This suggests that more than traditional political tools such as bans may be needed to solve complex digital problems in the context of rapid technological developments.

India’s TikTok Ban

The Indian government banned TikTok and many other Chinese applications due to national security concerns after the border conflict. This is part of a broader geopolitical strategy to reduce dependence on Chinese technology. This direct ban approach effectively cuts off app usage in the short term, but in the long term, it may stifle technological innovation and market diversity.

EU’s Data Protection Laws

A series of strict data protection measures in the European Union require TikTok to comply with high standards of user data processing. The observance of the DSA’s requirements to implement reasonable and suitable measures to guarantee a high degree of security, safety, and privacy for minors, especially with reference to default privacy settings for minors integrated into the architecture and operation of their recommender systems (“Press Corner”, n.d.). This places demands on platforms like TikTok for greater transparency and control over user data. The EU’s approach provides a sustainable framework that protects user privacy and promotes public trust in technology companies. This approach may address privacy and security issues in the digital age more effectively than simply imposing bans or restrictions.

While U.S. and Indian enforcement measures demonstrate directness in addressing urgent security issues, they suffer from shortcomings in adaptability, fairness, and long-term sustainability. In contrast, the EU’s regulatory framework provides a more balanced and comprehensive solution by promoting the harmonious coexistence of technology and regulations. Globally, international cooperation and dialogue should be encouraged to jointly develop digital governance standards that align with future technological development.

Communication with the Public

Public reactions to TikTok bans and regulatory actions vary widely across different groups and countries. While some believe these measures are necessary for national security, others believe they infringe on individual freedoms and global digital innovation. While Republicans are still more likely than Democrats to support a ban, the percentage of American adults who say they would support the government of the United States banning TikTok has decreased from 50% in March 2023 to 38%. Teens are much less likely to support a ban than adults, with only 18% supporting it compared to 29% of adults ages 18-29. Teen TikTok users are overwhelmingly opposed to a ban, with 68% opposing it (Pew Research Center, 2023).

In today’s digital era, misinformation spreads quickly, particularly about complex issues like data privacy and national security. Misunderstandings about why TikTok might be banned or what those bans could mean can twist public opinion and complicate policy enforcement. Public sentiment, influenced by misinformation, may push policymakers toward quick decisions that might not be well thought out or beneficial in the long term. It’s vital to understand and manage public sentiment to develop effective and widely supported policies.

Clear and straightforward communication about the reasons for and methods of TikTok regulations is essential. Policymakers need to clearly explain the risks and how they’re being mitigated, using language that everyone can understand. To reach a diverse audience, they should use various channels—social media, press releases, public forums, and more—to share their policies and their reasoning. Keeping the public regularly updated on the progress and effects of regulations can foster an ongoing conversation and allow policies to be adjusted based on new information or feedback. Effective communication isn’t just about announcing decisions; it involves listening, adapting, and responding to public concerns in a way that upholds democratic governance principles, respects individual rights, and addresses valid security risks.


The discussion around TikTok reveals the problematic balance between fostering technological innovation and protecting privacy and security. Countries have different approaches based on their legal, cultural, and political contexts. Effective digital governance needs adaptable, transparent frameworks that consider stakeholder input. This ensures that rules address specific risks and remain flexible for new technologies. TikTok’s case shows how crucial transparency is in digital governance. Clear communication and public trust are vital for successful policy implementation.

Recommendations for Policymakers

  • Develop Adaptive Legal Frameworks: Create legal frameworks that quickly adapt to new technologies and threats without hindering innovation.
  • Enhance International Cooperation: With digital platforms being global, international cooperation is crucial. Work towards global standards for privacy and data security.
  • Strengthen Transparency and Public Engagement: Prioritize transparency and boost public engagement to build trust and ensure support for digital policies. This means clear, continuous communication and public consultations on new rules.
  • Promote Digital Literacy: Invest in digital literacy programs to combat misinformation and help the public understand digital policy issues, emphasizing the importance of data privacy and platform risks.

Balancing innovation, privacy, and security is challenging but necessary. Technological progress brings opportunities for growth and benefits but also significant risks. Policymakers must ensure that digital innovations thrive while protecting privacy and security. The aim is to create an environment where technology and privacy standards coexist, supported by well-informed public discourse.


Beckett, J. (n.d.). The government wants to criminalise doxing. It may not work to stamp out bad behaviour online. The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/the-government-wants-to-criminalise-doxing-it-may-not-work-to-stamp-out-bad-behaviour-online-223546

Francis, L. P., and Francis, J. G. (2017). Privacy: What Everyone Needs to Know. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Goggin, G., Vromen, A., Weatherall, K. G., Martin, F., Webb, A., Sunman, L., & Bailo, F. (2017). Digital Rights in Australia. ISBN-13, 978-0

Maheshwari, S., & Holpuch, A. (2024, March 12). Why the U.S. is weighing whether to ban TikTok. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/article/tiktok-ban.html

Press corner. (n.d.). European Commission – European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_24_926

Pew Research Center. (2023, December 11). Support for US TikTok ban falls among adults, is low for teens | Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2023/12/11/a-declining-share-of-adults-and-few-teens-support-a-us-tiktok-ban/

The 72 biggest data breaches of all time [Updated 2024] | UpGuard. (n.d.). https://www.upguard.com/blog/biggest-data-breaches

Zuboff, S. (2019). The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. https://cds.cern.ch/record/2655106

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