Open to Debate (formerly Intelligence Squared U.S.) pits some of the world’s brightest thinkers against each other in debates organized in the traditional Oxford style. The side that convinces more audience members to embrace its arguments wins. The excerpts below come from a debate in March and have been edited for brevity.

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There are two concerns. The first is the data is being amassed and potentially used for surveillance by China. Second, there’s the potential for it to be a propaganda tool because it’s a major media platform. The problem isn’t TikTok. The problem is the Chinese government because there’s no such thing as a Chinese company that’s truly independent of the government. And no matter where the data is collected or stored, China’s data law applies extra-territorially. So, it will have access to data collected and stored anywhere. The second concern is that as people increasingly use it as a media platform, China can censor and boost content on it, which it did during the Hong Kong protests and which it does over Xinjiang repression. We need controls over government-related businesses from foreign countries having the ability to conduct espionage and to manipulate media in the United States.

Kori Schake,senior fellow and director of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, is former deputy director general of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.


China is not exporting censorship through TikTok. TikTok actually is an independent company. When we talk about banning TikTok, we are banning the voices of 90 million Americans. It is not true that TikTok is just turning over all its information to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. This is simply a false assertion. The investment capital behind TikTok is American and Japanese, as well as Chinese. I think we must stop imitating Chinese policies. We should not respond to authoritarianism with more authoritarianism. We must have confidence in a free society. The critics of TikTok are advocating data protectionism and data nationalism. They’re advocating blocking and censoring apps. They are advocating a militarization of the information economy. And this is exactly what China does. TikTok is not a tool of the Chinese government. It is a commercial entity. 

Milton Mueller,professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology School of Public Policy, is co-founder and director of the Internet Governance Project.

More TikTok: See who won the debate.