Some teens and young adults across the U.S. have purchased Virtual Private Networks (VPN) in response to the Trump Administration’s order to ban Tik Tok which is currently waiting for a judge to decide.
“I am considering getting a VPN,” said Jay Izzo, 21, of the Bronx. “If Trump is scared enough to ban TikTok, what’s he gonna ban next?”
A VPN is a secure wireless internet connection that cannot be tracked to your exact location, but has its location bounced around the world or set in another country to provide anonymity for its user.
Trump announced a ban on TikTok originally for September 20, disabling its distribution in the U.S., meaning it could no longer be newly downloaded. One had to already have downloaded the app to be able to use it. By November 12 if TikTok doesn’t transfer a portion of its shares to a U.S. software company, Trump promised to discontinue the app entirely. With a VPN, users in the U.S. could still have TikTok without government knowledge.
Trump’s desire for the ban stems from a fear of Chinese government imposition on national security. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed his fear of TikTok on July 30.
“It’s a Trojan Horse for Chinese intelligence,” Pompeo said.
The ban also includes the app ‘WeChat’ which is the primary method of communication between cell phones in China, and the absence of which would disconnect some Chinese Americans from their relatives.
“I’d lose contact with my grandmother if Trump bans WeChat,” Lisha Payne, 21 of Cleveland, Ohio said. “And I also just really like TikTok, I think I am addicted to it. So I’m gonna buy a VPN.”
TikTok is a viral video-streaming app that gained popularity in the United States in 2019, and is responsible for the monetary success of many young people who became “famous” on the app. It has been ruled dangerous by the U.S. government, citing that it allows Chinese data collectors to mine for data on U.S. citizens. The sentiment on data being stolen from some who use the app is less serious.
“What could anyone possibly want with my data?” River Knight, 19, of Salt Lake City, Utah said. “Great, River looked at 3 dog videos today, now we can steal his identity and understand his psyche.”
What is more serious is the addiction the users feel towards TikTok. Knight, Payne, and Izzo all reported feeling addicted to TikTok, and feeling incredibly anxious if spending a day not on it. TikTok creates a specialized ‘for you page’ which takes videos the user has liked and curates a feed of videos the app thinks match the original liked video.
“It knows me,” Izzo said. “Like the app knows me. It shows me exactly the videos I want to see and stuff I didn’t even know I wanted to see. It is creepy though, I feel like it listens to me talk and knows where I am at all times.”
Other users have also reported the app’s curation strategy being more personal than they feel the information they’ve put on the app is. Payne thinks this adds to the app’s addiction factor.
“It gives me what I want for sure,” Payne said. “So why would I give that up? VPN’s are not that difficult to get.”
A VPN would allow a U.S. citizen to use TikTok and WeChat undetected because it is a public wifi stream morphed into a private connection and IP address. The IP address can be placed anywhere in the world by the person who owns it and thus is untraceable to its original location. A VPN typically costs anywhere from nine to $12 But, it can also be downloaded for free online, though there is risk of downloading a virus or being tracked from your free VPN.
The US and China are currently working on strategies to transfer data and keep TikTok up and running in the US. There are 100 million active users from the US on Tiktok each month, including their top 5 creators according to CNBC.