TikTok has been under increased scrutiny concerning its security issues, and now the FBI is issuing a warning to the app’s users as other call for the app’s ban in the U.S.
- Security concerns about the app revolve around its close ties to the Chinese government. As a Chinese company, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance likely follows direction from the Chinese government.
- “Chinese companies are required to essentially. . . do whatever the Chinese government wants them to do in terms of sharing information or serving as a tool of the Chinese government,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.
- FBI officials are concerned that the app could be used by the Chinese government to collect data from its users.
- Additional dangers include the possibility of a controlled algorithm used to influence users’ flow of information.
- Devices with the app are also potentially susceptible to being compromised if ByteDance developers control the device’s software.
Why it’s news
TikTok, owned by a Chinese company with close ties to the Chinese government, is among the largest social-media sites in the world—approaching 750 million users per month. It is eclipsed only by Facebook and Instagram, each with 2 billion users per month. TikTok meanwhile is growing, while Facebook is fairly stagnant. TikTok revenues for 2021 were about $4.6 billion, compared with Facebook at around $89 billion. But TikTok is more than doubling its top-line figure every year, while Facebook is stagnant.
So it is big and getting bigger and has the potential control user data and use that data in many ways—for business, information targeting, and more.
While Apple and Google security measures make it less likely that the Chinese government could compromise personal devices, data collection from the app is still a pressing concern.
The app can still gather and store information about its users. Additionally, TikTok’s algorithm can still be altered to influence users on particular topics—allowing them to see misinformation or propaganda.
The Biden administration has been working toward a deal with TikTok so that American users can continue to use the app without the worrying security concerns. A deal has yet to be reached, however.
If accepted, the deal would result in American TikTok user traffic being directed to servers owned by Texas-based company Oracle. This company could also keep an eye on TikTok’s algorithm to look out for any harmful intentions and protect user data.
Currently, TikTok collects information such as email addresses and phone numbers, browsing history, app usage data, location information, and which videos the user interacts with, according to privacy information listed in the iOS App Store.
TikTok claims that the user data is private and the employees in China only have access to public data.
While some of this data collection is fairly standard for social media apps, the location data collection stands out. The video-sharing social media platform can show users videos without knowing where they are in the world.
American government officials will continue trying to work out a deal with ByteDance, but acceptance of the deal may come down to whether or not the Chinese government agrees.
Backing up a bit
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Brendan Carr has called for a complete ban of TikTok in the U.S.
The social-media app’s close connection with the Chinese government has been a growing security concern debated by U.S. officials.
While the FCC does not possess any authority to enforce a TikTok ban, Congress has followed recommendations from Carr in the past.
One solution to the security concerns is parent company ByteDance divesting TikTok to a U.S. based company that can continue to run operations in the U.S.
A potential deal was taking shape in September, however Carr believes that these negotiations won’t be successful.
“I don’t believe there is a path forward for anything other than a ban,” Carr told Axios. Carr continued saying there is no situation “in which you could come up with sufficient protection on the data that you could have sufficient confidence that it’s not finding its way back into the hands of the [Chinese Communist Party].”