Tulane Expert Says Banning TikTok Not That Simple

NEW ORLEANS – On Aug. 6, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning transactions with ByteDance, the parent company of the popular smartphone app TikTok, home of an endless stream of lip sync, dance and comedy videos. Trump said he issued the ban because his administration is concerned that the Chinese government could potentially access the personal information of the approximately 80 million Americans who use the app.

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Randy Magiera, a cybersecurity expert and professor of information technology and information security in Tulane University’s School of Professional Advancement (Photo courtesy of Tulane University)

But can a government completely block access to an application from its users? It’s not as easy as it sounds, according to Randy Magiera, a cybersecurity expert and professor of information technology and information security in Tulane University’s School of Professional Advancement. 

“Completely banning an app is a very complex task and is very difficult to achieve,” said Magiera. “Countries such as India ban the applications at the network level, preventing communication between smartphones and the application servers. This approach has limits, as any user who currently has the app installed on his or her smartphone can easily bypass the block using a virtual private network. … The government can also ban financial transactions crippling the company’s ability to make money. But end users are still able to use the application in this scenario, albeit in a limited manner.”

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Magiera said governments trying to ban any application must get cooperation from many groups, including internet service providers and the tech titans Google and Apple. Even still, it is nearly impossible to ban any application completely.  

“Governments can ask the cloud computing companies hosting the application’s servers to cease doing business with TikTok,” he said. “[But] there is no guarantee the companies will comply, and TikTok hosts at least some of their servers in their private data center, which makes this approach even less effective. Also, users can install the app on their phone either from a different app store or if they can find the file on the internet.”

TikTok said it plans to take President Trump’s administration to court over the order, which would take effect in September. TikTok star Charlie D’Amelio’s 72.5 millions fans will be anxiously awaiting the outcome. …

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