TikTok has been the most controversial app in the United States in recent years. ByteDance-owned video-sharing app has made headlines for its questionable data practices and ties to the Chinese government. TikTok has been repeatedly accused of serving as spyware for the Chinese government and promoting certain ideologies – such as Marxism – in the United States.
Concerns about TikTok were raised during Donald Trump’s era as US President, and the app even faced the likelihood of shutting down operations in the United States. Things didn’t get any better during the Biden era either, and TikTok faced multiple investigations from US authorities. The FCC even asked Google and Apple several times to remove the app from the stores.
TikTok is still operating in the US and could surpass 3.5 billion downloads worldwide. The app’s spokeswoman has now spoken to the BBC to clarify data practices and policies in relation to specific issues.
Collecting too much data from users
Almost all social media apps collect a huge amount of data from their users and TikTok is no exception. However, the scope of data collection and the processing and use of the collected data is different in every company. TikTok’s spokeswoman claims her data collection is “consistent with industry practices.”
According to research conducted by Australian researchers at Internet 2.0, TikTok can detect the user’s location, device type and the other apps installed on the device. While this may seem like excessive data, other research conducted by Citizen Lab and the Georgia Institute of Technology argues that other social platforms collect such data as well.
Allegations of cooperation with the Chinese government
When it comes to handling and protecting data, TikTok has a miserable record. TikTok’s spokeswoman says the company “has not provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we if asked.” Let’s take that claim with a pinch of salt.
A few months ago, the app was accused of sending US users’ data abroad and allowing China-based employees to access US data. Despite initial denials, TikTok eventually confessed and was forced to keep US users’ data in Oracle data centers. The company is now discussing building a new data center in Ireland.
In addition, local laws in China force companies like ByteDance to hand over data to the Chinese Intelligence Service (MSS). In fact, companies are committed to “supporting, assisting and working together” with MSS.
Used as a “brainwashing” tool
The spokesperson for TikTok says, “Our Community Guidelines prohibit misinformation that could harm our community or the public at large, including coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
Social media apps often claim that algorithms determine the content that appears in each user’s feed. The algorithms also provide such content by monitoring users’ activities and identifying their interests. Although this could be true in most cases, we should remember about manual algorithm adjustments. Forbes recently reported that TikTok has a secret “heat” button that allows certain content to go viral.
Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, told U.S. lawmakers in November 2022, “The Chinese government could … control the recommendation algorithm that could be used for influence manipulation.”
TikTok has already come under fire for banning users who speak out about the Chinese government’s oppression of Uyghur Muslims. Any other content blaming the Chinese government will likely be removed. Promoting gender theory controversy and woke culture materials in the US are other allegations against TikTok. Many experts even say that TikTok promotes racial disparity in the US.
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February 28, 2023