More than 86 million Americans have fallen in love with TikTok, the social media app that allows users to create, share, and enjoy short videos. From adorable animal clips to influencer advice, comedy skits, and impressive dance performances, TikTok has become a popular form of entertainment. However, concerns are growing among cybersecurity experts and elected officials who believe that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, may be posing a risk to user privacy. Let’s delve deeper into what this means and why it matters.
The Controversy Surrounding TikTok
As it turns out, the Chinese government has been accused of collaborating with ByteDance to censor content and potentially collect sensitive data on TikTok users. This has raised serious concerns about privacy and cybersecurity, leading at least 14 U.S. states to pass legislation, block government computers’ access to the app, or create rules against its usage. Furthermore, a bipartisan bill has been introduced in Congress seeking a ban on the app for all U.S. users. These actions highlight the worry that giving control of such a popular social media platform to a government with different values could compromise American security.
The Realistic Concerns
To better understand the potential risks, we spoke to Anton Dahbura, an executive director at the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute.
Dahbura explains that the concern surrounding TikTok is not just speculation. By accessing basic user information, foreign actors could discern whether individuals work at facilities of interest, including military or government establishments. However, the Chinese government’s motives extend beyond classified information or disruptive attacks. They have a track record of engaging in industrial espionage to obtain proprietary information and intellectual property theft. With their ability to sift through millions of records, they can target not only key facility employees but also their friends and neighbors, sometimes even using these connections to gain unauthorized access to enterprise systems.
Why Should You Be Concerned?
One might argue that the average person has nothing of interest to the Chinese government. However, Dahbura emphasizes that the Chinese government possesses considerable resources and often identifies valuable information that many individuals have never considered. It’s better to err on the side of caution, as compromising personal information can have far-reaching consequences for both individuals and the United States as a whole.
Privacy Policies and User Information
TikTok claims to rigorously protect users’ information and outlines its privacy policies when users sign up. However, Dahbura believes that when it comes to the Chinese government gaining access to American personal information, all bets are off. Any potential security threat should supersede a user agreement.
Device Manipulation and Content Curation
While there haven’t been specific revelations about TikTok compromising or altering users’ devices, the possibility remains. However, the primary focus of the Chinese government seems to be acquiring information. FBI Director Christopher Wray has expressed concerns regarding the Chinese government’s access to software for cyber operations, such as espionage or disruption. As for content manipulation, it is an issue that extends beyond TikTok. The broader concern should be biased content or misinformation across social media platforms, amplified by the algorithms companies use to manage content.
The Difference in Concerns
A question often raised is why TikTok is receiving more attention than Chinese-manufactured Apple products. The crucial distinction is that FBI Director Wray specifically identified TikTok as a “serious threat,” which has prompted action. While the U.S. government has taken measures against certain telecommunications companies, such as Huawei, there are currently no concerns about Apple products manufactured in China.
In conclusion, the controversy surrounding TikTok suggests that it may pose risks beyond just being a time-consuming social media app. Users should exercise caution and be aware of potential privacy and security issues. While the battle between national security and personal entertainment continues, it remains crucial to stay informed and remain vigilant about the apps and platforms we use daily.