David Greene: Should the U.S. Ban TikTok?

The Civil Liberties Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), David Greene, joins Tim to talk about current efforts to ban the social media app TikTok from American users. The EFF describes itself as the leading nonprofit organization defending civil liberties in the digital world. Founded in 1990, EFF says its “mission is to ensure that technology supports freedom, justice, and innovation for all people of the world.”  In this episode, David talks about current legislation in the U.S. to ban the popular social media app called TikTok, but it has more far-reaching impacts than just TikTok.

Ban TikTok

TikTok is a short-form video hosting platform owned by a Chinese company called ByteDance. TikTok users create their own videos and submit them to the platform. Some videos can be as short as a few seconds, while others can be as long as 10 minutes.

TikTok started in China under a different name, and continues in that country under its original brand. The social media app made its international debut in September of 2017.

To date, the TikTok app has been downloaded more than 150 million times in the United States and has how surpassed 2 billion downloads globally.

If you have kids, especially teenagers, you probably don’t need me to tell you how popular the app is, but it’s not limited to teenagers. Videos on TikTok are well known for going viral. This causes them to jump onto other platforms like Twitter and Instagram, where for some, their reach penetrates America’s national consciousness.

Sometimes a TikTok video will go viral to the extent that America’s traditional media will pick up the story.

But the TikTok story is more than that of just a popular app. That 150 million download number means that the app is installed on roughly 150 million American smart devices. This gives the social media platform access to data and information on those 150 million users.

What complicates this is that ByteDance is a Chinese-owned company. And despite assurances from the company, a common fear is that the government of China is using this access to spy on Americans.


About this Episode’s Guest David Greene

David Greene, Electronic Frontier FoundationDavid Greene, Senior Staff Attorney and Civil Liberties Director, has significant experience litigating First Amendment issues in state and federal trial and appellate courts. David currently serves on the steering committee of the Free Expression Network, the governing committee of the ABA Forum on Communications Law, and on advisory boards for several arts and free speech organizations across the country.

David is also an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where he teaches classes in First Amendment and media law and was formerly an instructor in the journalism department at San Francisco State University. He has written and lectured extensively on many areas of First Amendment Law, including as a contributor to the International Encyclopedia of Censorship. Before joining EFF, David was for twelve years the Executive Director and Lead Staff Counsel for First Amendment Project, where he worked with EFF on numerous cases including Bunner v. DVDCCA. David also previously served as program director of the National Campaign for Freedom of Expression where he was the principal contributor and general editor of the NCFE Quarterly and the principal author of the NCFE Handbook to Understanding, Preparing for and Responding to Challenges to your Freedom of Artistic Expression.

He also practiced with the firms Bryan Cave LLP and Hancock, Rothert & Bunshoft. Way back in 1998, he was a founding member, with David Sobel and Shari Steele, of the Internet Free Expression Alliance. He is a 1991 graduate of Duke University School of Law.

David’s work has been recognized by California Lawyer magazine as a 2013 California Lawyer Attorney of the Year, and by the SPJ Northern California as the recipient of its 2007 James Madison Freedom of information Award for Legal Counsel.  He was also awarded The Hon. Ira A. Brown Adjunct Faculty Award by USF Law School in 2012.