TikTok is a Chinese video-sharing social networking service owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet technology company founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming. It creates short dance, lip-sync, comedy and talent videos. And it is fast gaining a reputation as yet another Chinese State spying tool.
Look, we don’t have any evidence one way of the other. TikTok, like any Chinese corporation, operates under its laws and its servers are based there. Ergo it is not immune to government access. Yes, you could say that of any Chinese based company.
More than 1.6 million Australian’s have downloaded TikTok. But perhaps what is more disturbing is its meteoric take up by Government, Education, Military and enterprise as a QAD (quick and dirty) presentation tool. Oh, in the US, that figure is closer to 100 million. Globally it has over a billion users.
You will note that TikTok is a video-sharing, social networking service. Video-sharing is self-evident – once online, it is free for anyone to see (kind of like YouTube), but the scarier part is social network data harvesting a.k.a. Facebook.
FACT: It uses sophisticated AI to mercilessly mine user data, facial and object recognition, location, phone data and much more. This is in the guise of presenting users with TokToks they may like. How does it monetise/sell/use that data – we don’t yet know.
Known TikTok Issues
Endemic cyberbullying – it is so easy to put up a fake video, and it can go viral. There are no safeguards. Ditto for racism and political influence.
Propaganda – a huge amount of content is fake and pushing covert agendas
A platform for sexual predators, child abuse, and human exploitation.
Addiction – it now has a 90-minute continuous use limit
Privacy – what world governments are worried about
Hackers have exploited the weak code and even hacked user accounts via SMS – poor coding as so many free apps are
Its founder has close and proven ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The US has passed the National Security and Personal Data Protection Act to prohibit TikTok and others from transferring personal data of Americans to China – only it is not working! Even if you set up local servers, it is all too easy to exfiltrate that to Chinese servers owned by Alibaba or Tencent.
The US Government and Military have banned it. The Australian military has followed suit, and there is mounting pressure on the Australian Government to do so too.
India has banned it entirely along with 58 other apps citing concerns about national security, sovereignty and integrity, as well as data security, privacy and public order.
Indonesia – a predominately Muslim country – banned it for promulgating “pornography, inappropriate content and blasphemy. TikTok pledged 20 staff to clean it up. The ban has since lifted.
Even the Chinese Government has listed 100+ types of content it will not allow on TikTok. This includes any content unfavourable to the CCP, anything relating to Hong Kong Riots or Tiananmen Square ad infinitum.
TikTok Australia’s general manager Lee Hunter responds
“TikTok does not share information of our users in Australia with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government, and would not do so if asked,” Mr Hunter said.
He said the app was “building next-generation security programs”, adding data is on servers in Singapore.
Bottom line – where there is smoke there fire
All social media companies have a moral obligation to make it absolutely clear (in simple English) what data they collect and how they use it BEFORE the app is installed. If the product is free, the product is you.