you can't really ban tiktok

but you can say you will

Apparently they (the White House? the army? I dunno) are going to block TikTok. Or they were. I think you could still use the app if you had it installed already, but they were going to block downloads of the app? Again, I was not paying attention.

Understandably, people panicked. One consistent problem that the media (as much as it can be generalized) has is that a piece can't cram the full reality into a headline. So I see stuff like:

Trumps Will Ban TikTok This Week

and I, a person who knows a little about the internet, read it as

Trump Will Make Some Futile Attempt At Limiting How Information Moves Through the Internet

and other people might read it as

Trump Will Definitely Ban Tiktok. Say Bye-Bye.

It is virtually impossible to ban a user from obtaining a piece of software or accessing a piece of online content, at least in the United States. Here's an example: it is illegal, according to U.S. law, to distribute or download pirated movies. Can you still pirate movies very easily, using the internet? Yes.

Even if the government said that Google and Apple had to stop distributing a mobile app, that doesn't wipe it from the internet entirely. On Android, users can sideload APK files, bypassing Google's App Store entirely. There are countless sites hosting and distributing APK files. Mac and Windows don't have native TikTok apps, but if they did, the openness of the platform allows developers to make software for those operating systems without the approval of their respective platform holder.

Apple's iOS exercises a bit more control over what users can install — everything flows through the App Store — and is a lone exception. Apple delisting the app would effectively make it impossible to install on iOS. If that idea irks you, congratulations, you hate walled gardens. Get in line. (I freely write this as someone who owns an iPhone; do NOT make me link the Bors comic.)

Okay, but -- let's say, somehow, all of TikTok's apps disappeared. I guess it's a good thing we have the World Wide Web. Users with an app can still load up tiktok.com. Blocking TikTok's web traffic would be an enormous undertaking, requiring cooperation from internet service providers, as well as the companies that provide hosting support for TikTok. And yet, even if TikTok's domain host, which makes "tiktok.com" function, kicked it off, a domain is just a mask for an IP address which users could still access.

In 2014, amid protests, Turkey's government blocked access to twitter.com. So users started going straight to Twitter's IP address. Turkey then blocked that method too. Pulling off a similar IP-level block in the U.S. is not impossible but it is practically unthinkable (he writes, as we continue a steady slide into authoritarianism) given how relatively unfettered American internet access is.

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make here is that blocking something from being accessed via the internet, as far as the U.S. is concerned, is pointless and ineffective — this whole thing has been an exercise in empty rhetoric. Shutting down TikTok would require serious coordination between the government and countless, complicit private stakeholders. I know we live in strange times, but even now, I just can't see that happening.


This BNet was written before or immediately after some news involving a TikTok deal broke. Oracle and Walmart? Sure. No idea what that means, which is a consistent theme this week. I’ll admit: I'm writing this very quickly on the heels of a busy week, so people who know more about the internet than me might hate this and spot some errors. You've been warned.

check out this old jacket

I visited my parents this weekend and we were sitting around outside, and I was cold and hadn’t brought a jacket, so I borrowed an old one from the closet. Check out the pockets on this bad boy.

First, we’ve got the phone pocket. This is not a pocket for a smartphone. This is a pocket for a Nokia brick. Look at that cell phone icon — it’s got buttons and an antenna! Remember that?

Additionally, check out this pocket. It’s for a music player. Remember having to have a separate music player that was not also your phone? Wild. This pocket is the perfect size for a Zune. Oh, and look right above it: a little port for your headphone wire. Remember that? A wire?

I don’t really have a point here. I just through the pockets were funny.


Elsewhere…

  • a good dog (another reason you can’t really ban tiktok is that a lot of tiktok videos are quickly ripped to other social platforms)

  • iykyk


Thank you for reading BNet. I honestly think it’d be kinda funny if the President tried to ban my newsletter, personally speaking.