The clock is winding down for TikTok, the popular Chinese-owned video-sharing app. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for it to be banned, but it is far from the only app that could be acting as a form of dangerous “spyware” for Beijing. Analytics firm Apptopia estimated last month that another three of the top 10 free mobile apps in the U.S. are also owned by Chinese firms.

These include CapCut, a video editing tool, and TikTok competitor; Shein, a fashion app that is popular around the world; and Temu, an online superstore that allows consumers to buy products directly from Chinese manufacturers.

The Chinese Invasion

Though none of those aforementioned apps have a direct connection to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), there is a concern that any of these apps could track users and send data back to Beijing.

“The short list of the dangers involving Chinese apps includes data privacy – as these apps may collect and store extensive amounts of personal information that could be shared with third parties including the Chinese government,” explained Ted Miracco, CEO, Approov, security solution provider for mobile apps.

Miracco warns that malware is another concern.

“As we have seen from the modified Pinduoduo app that not only stole data but infected the mobile device with malicious code and spyware,” Miracco told ClearanceJobs, adding that “Backdoors are another concern that has been raised from a national security perspective and lastly the complete lack of transparency and accountability of Chinese companies can it make difficult for consumers to have any recourse in the event of violations regarding the data collection of these apps.”

Singling Out TikTok

The question to ask is why has TikTok been singled out, and whether the ban goes far enough. Should or could all Chinese apps be banned? The short answer is, it’s tricky.

“At a certain level, the singling out of Tik Tok seems one-sided since it reportedly trails other China-based apps in terms of downloads/popularity,” suggested technology industry analyst Charles King of Pund-IT.

“According to Apptopia’s findings, e-shopping app Temu and the CapCut video editor app are both well ahead. Like other free apps, those developed in and deployed from China collect users’ credit/purchase information and behavioral data in order to personalize interactions,” King told ClearanceJobs.

Yet, much like the hype around the Chinese spy balloon – which was likely gathering data – we may be too singularly focused on one concern. It is like missing the forest for the trees. Chinese spy satellites could already get a similar picture to the balloon, and likewise, we’re now paying attention to TikTok while missing other potential threats.

“In fact, it could be argued that since data from TikTok users in the U.S. is stored on Oracle Cloud servers, the company is providing higher levels of transparency than other apps,” added King. “That said, the sheer popularity of TikTok – average usage among teenagers is 75 minutes per day – means that ByteDance potentially has access to massive volumes of user data, a point of concern for those who distrust the company’s claims that it does not share data with the CCP.”

Are Wider Bans Coming?

As far as a wider ban of Chinese software; it would simply be impractical. But is time to ban all apps from China on government and company devices? Even that could present challenges.

“A blanket ban on all Chinese apps is not a practical solution; it also could have significant economic consequences, as China is a major player in the global technology market,” noted Miracco. “It’s important to note that not all Chinese apps pose a security risk and that many apps from other countries also have potential security vulnerabilities.”

Instead, he told ClearanceJobs it’s imperative that consumers exercise extreme caution when downloading and using any app, regardless of its country of origin.

“Consumers need to take steps to protect personal information and data privacy, and the technology companies need to be regulated such that the consumers can control what is shared and what is not shared,” Miracco continued.

Users of all apps should be cautious of what might be shared, but it’s especially important to evaluate the security risks associated with specific Chinese apps. The counterpoint is that bans should be based on the facts.

“It’s also important to consider whether there are viable alternatives to Chinese apps that can provide the same functionality without the same security risks,” pondered Micacco. “If such alternatives exist, they could be prioritized over Chinese apps along with other measures such as increased scrutiny, stronger data privacy regulations could also be effective vs. a ban.”

Welcome to Cold War 2.0

In many ways, this is simply an extension of the current political climate and relations between Washington and Beijing. Chinese companies are being targeted, but it is also important to note that many U.S. tech firms are now banned in China and blocked by Beijing’s Great Fire Wall.

These include Facebook, Google, Twitter, Snapchat, Reddit, and Pinterest among others.

“Overall, so long as political tensions continue between the CCP and the U.S. and other Western countries, the popularity of free apps developed in China and their general technological sophistication are likely to be a source of increasing concern and scrutiny for public and private entities,” said King.

“Blanket bans come across as protectionist and politically motivated, especially if there are only a few apps that pose significant security risks,” added Micacco. “Lastly, there need to be economic consequences when corporations are reckless with consumer data, regardless of what nation the company is based in.”


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Peter Suciu is a freelance writer who covers business technology and cyber security. He currently lives in Michigan and can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.