At first, it seemed like TikTok was just another app that the older generation complained about, but as its popularity grew with so many dance moves being recorded despite its real owner, it became clear that TikTok is a security risk. While the app has had an immense global and cultural influence on the world today, its close relation to the Beijing government and its potential ties to data mining make it a threat to national security.
Some Countries Have Already Removed TikTok Use
Although TikTok’s global headquarters are in Culver City, California, they’re under the umbrella of a Chinese multinational internet technology company called ByteDance. There has been growing concern that data given by users on this social media app is being exploited to the Chinese government. India just recently put a national ban on this exuberant app. In Hong Kong, TikTok has completely withdrawn its app in light of their unrest with China.
Unfortunately for TikTok, India was their biggest market by far. This has been subject to worry in the United States and it could set the precedent for more oversight on smart phone apps. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has agreed that this is an issue that needs to be better explored.
Popularity of TikTok
Before looking at the app’s massive security threat to our country, it’s very important to understand the astonishing popularity that TikTok has accrued in recent months. Not only does TikTok have eight-hundred million users and 1.65 billion downloads, but there are one billion video views on every given day. These statistics have given way to numerous cultural influences in popular music, cooking recipes, and dance routines. TikTok has zeroed in on a specific demographic, with 16-24 year olds representing 41% of all TikTok users. From celebrities to kids in middle school, TikTok has become the influencer of all influencers.
Why TikTok is a Concern
It’s well-known that Chinese government strictly mandates all companies to filter their data for informational use. With TikTok being represented by ByteDance (a company based out of Beijing), the app is in position for its data to be taken and entered into China’s massive database. There’s little to no restrictions for Chinese government’s access to this information. From China’s perspective, without the legal ramifications for data mining, there’s no reason not to do it.
What Data Does TikTok Mine?
Cutting-edge facial recognition software can filter through every single face that has ever appeared in a TikTok video and put it into their vault of information. This is very similar to the alleged skepticism put on the Russian government with their potential involvement with the popular “Face App”. It’s pretty daunting considering the number of faces that have been put on to TikTok and to think about the potential uses for this data. Deepfakes and genetic research are both a concern.
TikTok knows their potential more than anybody. and they’re quickly trying to figure out the best ways to reduce hesitations surrounding their app and the liability that comes with it. A couple of steps they’ve taken to ensure this is by hiring a new face to the franchise. TikTok’s CEO Kevin Mayer was formerly the senior executive vice president and CSO for Disney where he played a major role in Disney’s acquisition of Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm, and Pixar. Mayer was also recently quoted about India’s TikTok ban saying, “We would never give Indian user data to the Chinese government.” Whether it’s true or not, it’s nice to have a familiar spokesperson shooting down any alleged rumors.
Lastly, TikTok has created an overseas data center that will allegedly be out of reach for the Chinese government. However, with TikTok still being under the umbrella of a Chinese technology company, it’s very hard to have full trust in the fact that the Chinese government is not using the app to solicit personal information. Governments around the world should be very wary moving forward.