Tiktok Is China’s Next Big Weapon

from Axios

Chinese social media is largely impenetrable for most in the West — just check out their memes — but Sino tech giants have their eye on owning the U.S. market, evidenced by the rise of TikTok.

Why it matters: While the video-based app simply seems like a benign platform for Gen Zers to make and share funny memes, it’s could become a Chinese vacuum for coveted American data.

Between the lines: TikTok’s “parent company, ByteDance, recently valued at more than $75 billion, bills itself first as an artificial intelligence company, not a creator of mission-driven social platforms,” per the New York Times. Its secret sauce: “Apparently you just … show [users] things, and let a powerful artificial intelligence take notes.”

More here.

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22 Responses to Tiktok Is China’s Next Big Weapon

  1. DeVante Morales September 27, 2019 at 5:01 pm #

    This article proved to be a very worrisome read. There are many points presented in this piece that many would consider to be alarming to mass amounts of people in the United States. This article starts off by stating the obvious; people in the U.S. cannot access social media. However, the opposite is not true. People in China have an easier time accessing our social media and our websites on the internet. China may have an unfair advantage over us because of their involvement in TikTok. Tik Tok is one of the world’s most popular applications available today. This app allows one or more people create videos of themselves, often times these videos include people dancing/singing along to a song. Tiktok is owned by ByteDance. ByteDance is a chinese technology company currently valued at 75 billion dollars. This company has left their mark in the United States. Last year they spend one billion dollars just in advertising in the United States. Now this doesn’t necessarily seem like a big deal, but there are some worrying aspects to this. The latest most worrying aspects of Tik Tok is national security. I think that it is a big problem in the United States for a chinesesd based company to have so much influence in the United States; especially since the U.S. doesn’t have the same influence in China. This article states that the Chinese government may be able to access sensitive data from Americans through Tiktok. This is similar to what Facebook has been accused of (yet it keeps doing it). What makes this different is that instead of an American company accessing your personal data, now there is a Chinese company accessing your data. Facebook does it just to see what you may like to be able to control what ads you may or may not see. A Chinese company may have different motives. Instead of selling your information to retailers they may sell your information to the government. This issue may be getting blown out of proportion, or maybe bringing light this situation may be beneficial for our national security. Maybe as American citizens we should do our research into companies before giving up all of our personal information to them.
    As far as using Tik Tok goes there are many other alternatives. My favorite is Triller. Triller is an American based music video app, much like Tiktok. This app allows users to create videos just like Tiktok. I suppose the only difference is that the Chineses government cannot access your information through this app. This app is promoted by users like Kevin Hart and many other celebrities who wish to bolster their personal ventures by posting videos of themselves to Triller. Often times singers/rappers will show previews of themselves singing to their own songs while using Triller. The best thing Americans can do to protect our national security is to be careful of what apps we use. Although this may be an overreaction, it is better to be safe than sorry.

  2. Rahul S September 27, 2019 at 6:42 pm #

    This article about Tik Tok was quite interesting to read. It was very eye opening considering that I had no idea this could be an issue. I am very aware of the app Tik Tok, but didn’t know that the company that owns it is a Chinese company. Tik Tok is advertised on an abundance of social media platforms including Facebook and Snapchat, both of which I and many other people my age use. There is no way to avoid a Tik Tok advertisement. They make them very intriguing by showing peoples original content as well as using music. The question of national security from this app is very thought provoking. The article mentions how people complain that American firms like Facebook are invasive and unaccountable so they would be even more reluctant with something like that happening from a Chinese company. These kinds of things are not uncommon as they said there was controversy with the Russian company that made FaceApp, over its use of photos and access to people’s user photos. Although Tik Tok says their user data is stored and processed in the US, their user terms indicate that the data could be shared with any member or affiliate of their group. This could mean that although stored and processed in the states, it could eventually be going to china. This didn’t initially pose any concern but after thinking about it and reading the rest of the article, it was evident that this could pose a threat on the United States. I recently downloaded Tik Tok because my friend’s little sister is a big fan and wanted me to see her videos and make some of my own. As I was browsing the app, I noticed there are people on the app doing all sorts of things including dancing, singing, or even playing a prank on someone. In my opinion, this article could be completely incorrect or it could be eye opening on factors that impact national security. Either way, this should be a good example for consumers and users to be knowledgeable on the things they buy or the apps they download. I am personally guilty of this because I will download anything from the Appstore with little or no thought to it.

  3. Mikaela Battaglia September 27, 2019 at 7:16 pm #

    Most “gen z-ers” nowadays have social media platforms that they are active on. Speaking directly to my class, I am sure all of you have SnapChat specifically, and like to read the articles and different magazine and cooking “subscriptions” that pop up in the story section, I do too! But, how many times during your experience on Snapchat do you see an ad for TikTok nowadays? I see them multiple times a day, probably around 20-30 ads. While I have not downloaded the popular app TikTok, which has essentially replaced Vine, I know that many people enjoy the videos and find them funny and entertaining. What I did not know was that the app was owned by a Chinese company.
    The cool thing about a month ago was to make your face look old by using “FaceApp”. Even celebrities were doing it and posting what they would look like twenty, thirty years from now. However, security concerns were raised because the app was owned by a Russian company. Both of these apps are similar in the fact that they may be able to access data that users are unaware of, and also do not want to be shared. Even though users agree to the “terms and services” that the app requires them to, to be able to use the app at all, no one actually reads the whole thing. Therefore, these apps are technically able to access all of this information through those long contracts.
    This brings up the point of civil liberties being infringed upon, but it is hard for the U.S. to regulate things like this because they are coming from other countries, that may not have those same laws in place. It is difficult to regulate anything over the internet these days because of how broad it is, and how many users are on their social media daily. However, the government could look more into apps that are being approved to be sold on the “app store”, to help regulate it a little.
    Although these apps are fun and seem to be in trend now, users all over the world need to be more cautious with the apps they are downloading. All sorts of data can be taken by these different companies, not just photos (which I would argue is heavily exploitative in its own right). Companies know that users are no going to read the entire agreement, and they take advantage of this and include any sort of data collecting conditions they can, which is not right.

  4. Joe Antonucci September 27, 2019 at 7:20 pm #

    As a TikTok user I am alarmed by this article. As if Mark Zuckerberg harvesting my data and personal information was not bad enough, now the Chinese government may have access to it as well.

    I have seen plenty of TikTok ads on Instagram and Snapchat, and they are all very strange. This article explains why: Chinese companies are creating and spreading these ads to pull more young people onto their platform, and these Chinese advertising people have absolutely no idea how to make an ad that appeals to a Gen Zer in America.

    Nevertheless the ads seemed to have worked, because TikTok has ascended to become one of the most prevalent social media apps out there, more particularly among the youth, unlike Facebook which has a lot of boomers, and Snapchat/Instagram which people well into their 30s use.

    I was never aware that TikTok was based in China, in which the government is notorious for its spying and censorship campaigns against its own people. This is quite alarming to know, considering similar concerns were vindicated with “FaceApp, which is owned by a Russian startup.”

    The parent company of TikTok may not have any ulterior motives beyond profit, but this still presents privacy concerns in the same way that we are concerned about U.S. based tech giants such as Facebook from stealing the data of its users, which has been proven to be occurring.

    The real issue here is that the nosy Chinese government may decide to steal or coerce the data of TikTok’s parent company in an effort to compile important, private information on U.S. citizens. This could give China an edge in the ongoing economic war with the U.S., as this private data could be given to Chinese companies who will then be able to pinpoint their marketing efforts. There are also obvious security concerns with regard to a foreign government (a rival, no less) having private information on millions of our nation’s youth. The article cites the possibility of a U.S. military member’s son making memes on TikTok, then having his data stolen by the Chinese. This scenario in particular presents a great national security concern.

    As the article states, ByteDance is not a social media company, but rather an artificial intelligence one. Could all of the data being collected by ByteDance be utilized by artificial intelligence? Now we have concerns about the Chinese government, as well as artificial intelligence analyzing the data, of, again, American young people.

    The Chinese government has many avenues to prevent a country in America from engaging in these practices against its citizens. For some reason, our government does not protect us from this!

  5. Walter Dingwall September 27, 2019 at 7:22 pm #

    With information comes power, and with power comes fear from everyone else. And with China having power through American information, America should have all the reason to be fearful. With the vast use of TitTok and the even more broad viewership in America, China has access to a load of data that the American consumer is not constantly conscientious of. This is the same dilemma as the one which put Mark Zuckerberg in the hot seat for and has made more of the public aware that the internet is truly keeping an eye on users. The fact that TikTok is Chinese makes this even more dangerous to said users.
    By barring American the U.S. from doing such data gathering in China, there may be enough substance to escalate an already heated trade war between the two nation, adding a new sector to the conversation. For an exclusion of Chinese developed technology from the U.S. would be negative in the sense that a large set of information would be withheld from Americans. On the other hand, it would put practice a Chinese sentiment that, in the big picture, protects the U.S. from having its consumers’ information be exploited. The dilemma is creating a balance between complete isolationism from China and data security for U.S. consumers.
    Just as the rise of the deepfakes, and their influence via American disinformation, the tech companies and security agencies should be pulling together a great effort to prevent Chinese influence through data grabbed from sources like TikTok. This is just becoming the modern espionage, except the spies are right in the public eye and their presence and motives are clear enough. Only this time, the game is changing faster than ever and the counter spies have a narrower window to shut down the operation.
    As the tech companies of America are putting the best hackers to the test in competitions to reinforce their securities, there should be just as much of an effort to recognize what data is being exported. This is a subtotal of the price of “freedom.” Does the American consumers’ ability to access information outweigh the security breaches possible by allowing access to foreign sites?

  6. Kathleen Watts September 27, 2019 at 8:08 pm #

    I’m gonna be completely honest in this response. This sounds like plain and simple paranoia. The person who wrote this article, I would guess, has never so much as downloaded the app onto their phone. As someone who has actually used Tik Tok, I have never feared that the Chinese government is going to use my data about what videos I think are funny to overthrow the American economy. They don’t even target their ads like American companies, with every person pretty much getting the same ad and then using Tik Tok to create videos mocking those ads, often getting hundreds of thousands of likes. Tik Tok simply fills a hole that American business couldn’t after Vine was taken off the market in early 2017. Vine, released in 2013, was a very similar app in which users would post 6-second video clips. While this might sound like a very short period to make an interesting video, it actually sparked a popular and new form of comedy that was easily accessible. With the short video time, creators were pressed to make something funny quicker which actually resulted in some jokes that are still incredibly popular today among generations like mine. About a year after Vine was released, two long time friends in Shanghai, China released an app called Musical.ly, a place where creators could make 15-second video clips of them lip syncing. This app grew an incredible amount of popularity in America. In 2017, Bytedance bought the app and merged it with their Chinese based company, Tik Tok. They officially changed the name of Musical.ly to Tik Tok in August of last year in order to steer it away from its lip syncing history and make it more marketable to a wider US audience. This was an incredibly good step for Tik Tok. Now, millions of people use the app every day, many more than those that used musical.ly.
    This smart marketing should not be confused for data stealing. Even if a sensitive U.S. military official’s teenage son was posting dumb videos of him dancing on Tik Tok or following one of the many meme trends, China would not be able to get any kind of dangerous information out of that. Even if they had access to the notes on this kids iPhone, that kid should not be carrying sensitive information in the first place. The stretch that this article poses is quite impressive.
    Now, as someone who uses Tik Tok daily and has friends that use Tik Tok, comparing it to Facebook is abysmally ignorant. Facebook allowed companies to secretly do research on it’s users and target ads that directly affected huge elections, and not just in the US. Many are now saying that the reason so many English people voted to leave the EU is because of ads that were targeted to people that were believed to be miseducated which blatantly lied about the implications of staying in the EU. Even some Russian hackers have been blamed for Trump’s election, often using Facebook to post propaganda. It took Facebook months to admit that there was a problem in both cases, even though it was already widespread knowledge that they allowed these things to happen. Still, they refuse to hand of records of some of the big conglomerates and people that funded these propaganda schemes.
    Tik Tok ads, in contrast, never involve any form of political action. You get ads for Depop, an online buying and selling marketplace, or the Earnin App, which lends you money before you’ve been paid so you don’t have to wait. Everyone gets the same ads not matter what. These ads, unlike many many American companies, NEVER involve products from recent searches. This is because they force the companies that want to post ads to make them in the style of a Tik Tok so that it fits into you daily scroll down your “For You” page, a page in which Tik Tok shows you videos it’s algorithm thinks you might enjoy.
    The same cannot at all, in any way, be said for most American-based social media companies. I have not gone on Twitter once without seeing a politically driven ad based on which side of the spectrum Twitter assumes I’m on. While booking a vacation at Myrtle Beach last spring, I spent a month getting ads on Instagram for various Myrtle Beach properties I could stay at, including the one I was booking for my vacation. On Tik Tok, however, I got the same ads about clothing and money lending. As someone who uses social media a good amount, this is honestly a breath of fresh air. For once, a company is not using my google searches to clog my recommended page with ads specifically about that search.
    The word data is way too vague for the author to be claiming that this may be dangerous. If I like a video that has a cute dog in it and the song playing is cute, Tik Tok collects that data. No, they’re not going to sell it like Facebook tried to, they’re going to use that data to recommend me more videos with cute animals and cute songs. The assertion that this practice is in someway dangerous is total and utter fear mongering by an uneducated person throwing around the term “data collection” to get the attention of other uneducated people.
    Even though Tik Tok does a better job at not targeting ads and using its data collection to potentially harm its users, like Facebook has, it is not going to run any of these American companies into the ground. Tik Tok is good for only one reason: short content that is easy to ingest. Apps like Twitter and Instagram have completely different platforms and users don’t use their platforms for the same reason they use Tik Tok.
    Onto the point about AI fear, again, this author acts like artificial intelligence in social media is the scariest thing to happen to the US. Facebook and other American run apps, as mentioned before, have actually used AI’s that have misled users and collected data for reasons other than making their experience better. Tik Tok has not, not ever, even when it was musical.ly. However, this seems to be a great fear to the author. How scary of Tik Tok to actually use its social media AI for what its users want it to be used for, improving their experience. I’ve actually found Tik Tok’s AI to be more accurate at assessing what I like and don’t like than any other social media platform.
    The only valid question this article poses is right at the bottom. Yes, it is curious that this Chinese company is allowed to come to America while America has big issues getting its companies into China. This should have been the main point of the article. Why? Is it down to e commerce of China trying to control its people? Is China trying to get a hold of America’s economy? Whatever the answers to these questions are, Tik Tok is not going to overthrow the American economy. Users don’t even have to pay for it so, as an economics major, it is not taking away from their earnings. People will still have money to buy into American companies, most of which have most of their plants in Eastern Asia anyways, but who’s counting anymore.

  7. Stephen Hoffman September 27, 2019 at 8:29 pm #

    This article presents an additional example for how valuable data is becoming on the open markets. In today’s era, businesses can profit the most not from advertising or internal spending, but rather from understanding consumer tendencies and behavior. Data mining is not only valuable for corporations in the open market, but for countries attempting to gain a better understanding of what is occurring within other nations. This business is booming, and it is alarming that social media could actually be a valuable resource in this situation. TikTok is an example of one of the social media sites that seemingly boomed overnight, and the reality of the American legal system is that it does not work fast enough to react to such drastic changes in the technological landscape. This is also not a surprise for China, as they are on the forefront of the technological development industry. The element of the article that presents the most pressing concern is fear over the usage of this type of data to view the activities and location of American generals, political leaders or military officials. There is no international law preventing this data, as the international legal community is not structured to operate fast enough to catch up to the movement of the technological community. Even organizations like the United Nations or the European Union cannot legislate for their respective territories fast enough for corporations to react to its spread. It is even becoming difficult for these organizations to staff the correct people on the matter, as there is substantially more money in the technology companies of Silicon Valley than the tightly funded United Nations.
    This is also problematic for the users of those applications, as we are unaware of where our data is going. Companies use this technique intentionally, as they are often embedded in the terms and conditions that are nearly impossible to read include clauses that make clear that the behavior is allowed. People essentially sacrifice their data, which is becoming an integral element of their personal identity in today’s technology driven world, accepting the fact that their identity is far from private. It is difficult for people to catch up to this reality of the digital world, as people are less likely to monitor the ever-changing landscape of technological innovation. If people are not constantly informed, they are likely to miss the newest development, especially with the innovation of the 24-hour news cycle. The tech companies hold most of the power in these situations, due to people’s inability to be aware of the changes and the international community failing to legislate properly before innovation occurs.

  8. Caitlyn M September 27, 2019 at 8:40 pm #

    TikTok always seemed to me like a rather innocuous app. The first part of the New York Times article confirmed everything that I already knew about it; that people could post short videos of themselves that could potentially go viral such as the many challenges that have swept the web in the past few years. What I didn’t know and what utterly fascinated me were the other ways that such a seemingly innocent app could be manipulated into so much more.

    It never occurred to me how much data would be collected by a social media app, let alone one such as TikTok. I knew that it had some personal information, because that’s just the nature of social media, but the full scope has only just hit me because of these articles. It also never occurred to me how that data could potentially be dangerous, or how it could be sold to a company that could use it in a malicious way. For example, as highlighted by Shane Savitsky, the Chinese government could end up with sensitive data from a family member of a government employee. It’s rather scary to think about where one’s data could end up or how it could be used.

    I personally think the only solution to this is tighter regulations on social media apps when it comes to the privacy of data. For starters, there should make it abundantly clear how your personal data is being used. It shouldn’t be hidden in a long privacy statement that the majority of people will not read. Additionally, the US should regulate the information shared with apps based in foreign countries. For example, having American users private data stored in a server that is based in the US. Whether we like the Chinese memes or not, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

  9. Chris Bagnell September 27, 2019 at 8:55 pm #

    After reading this article on the popular social media platform Tik-Tok, I was more informed on China’s involvement. I had no idea it was Chinese owned and that can bring up a lot of problems. Many people post on that platform daily and a large majority of them are from the United States. The concern is that people in the military have kids that post on the platform and the data might be able to be mined such as an IP address which can identify the location of the individual. This could pose a threat to the military by exposing their position and then the house might be watched and looked into for evidence be an enemy intelligence. While this would be an extreme case it is still possible and could pose a threat to the United States. The article also mentioned that the company spent over $1 billion in advertisements on American platforms to promote their platform. I see an ad for the app every day and it even convinced me to download the app and look at it. With the amount of people from the states joining this app, it has the possibility of influencing war. All of the data can be mined and extracted to reveal information that is not meant to be released or give away locations where certain buildings or events are taking place. China has successfully tapped into the U.S market with Tik-Tok because it reminds most of the young generation of a popular app called Vine. The platforms are very similar in their ways and because of that, it has a lot of pull in the market. This already gives them a head start against competition and ultimately is what made them as big as they are today. If this platform was owned by another country the problems might be different or non-existent, but I believe because of the recent taxes the trump administration implemented on China, they have a right to worry about a possible data breach. The Chinese company also purchased Grindr, which is a popular gay dating app in the United States. Apps like these have a lot more confidential information that tells a lot about a person and could be used against them especially if it is a person that is important to the United States. Thankfully, they have to sell Grindr by 2020. If the Chinese company actually did use this data, they would be in a lot of trouble. It is a violation of the Right of Privacy. While there is not an actual law called that, some amendments provide some protection over privacy. The fifth amendment protects from self-incrimination, which is leaking of their own information. Because of this, if the Chinese company leaks private information, they would be violating this amendment in a way but that is the least of their concerns. Leaking the millions of users information could cause a severe conflict with China and it could lead to a halt in imports and exports to and from the country.

  10. Nicolas Mateo September 27, 2019 at 8:55 pm #

    While reading the article, I was almost humored by the story of the Chinese app Tiktok, because all I could think about is how we’re all taught growing up to protect ourselves online, and be careful with our data. But after reading through the article, I realized that the issue that TikTok brings up has nothing to do with user error, but more so the structure of these apps themselves. Chinese companies use apps, usually social media platforms or meme-based apps, as a way to lure in Americans to using their platforms, so that they can collect data and learn from Americans. While Tiktok itself is operated in the U.S. only and does not share any data to the Chinese Government, that doesn’t mean Chinese execs aren’t still getting their hands on data patterns provided by American users. The issue here is that these Chinese companies are benefitting off of the use of American users’ data and inputs. It was reported that “ByteDance”, Tiktok’s parent company, claimed to be an “artificial intelligence company”, and in addition ByteDance spent $1 billion dollars in U.S advertising in 2018. So clearly these Chinese companies are seeking the data of American users, and they will pay to get to it. The app structure is very clever because the face of a social media appp hides the secret data recording and collection that these companies really want. If we want to combat these companies, Americans must be more careful as to what they download, and how they share their data, but also perhaps these app stores should have more extensive checks on each app being put onto their markets. This is an issue that cannot be forgotten about, as it is very sneaky but could prove to boost Chinese economies and companies, overpowering their American counterparts. The overall issue here concerns national security, and having American data being taken into Chinese companies is not something that will help America’s economy. Another Chinese owned app named “Grindr” was mentioned, and it seemed to have the same model of Tiktok, make a flashy app, secretly record everyone’s data. However, this Chinese company has been forced to sell the app by 2020 by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS), due to it’s national security concerns. So we see that something is beginning to be done by U.S. officials, but we must crack down on this issue and put pressure on Chinese companies to stop using American data collected from their shady apps.

  11. Timothy September 27, 2019 at 9:21 pm #

    TikTok is a new app that is taking over the world, it is a video-based app where users upload videos of themselves singing and dancing along to their favorite songs. Many of the apps top users are turned into overnight celebrities. The app seems to have taken hold of Gen Zers in the US market and around the world as users are able to share memes with each other. The only concern with this is the fact that TikTok’s parent company is ByteDance, an artificial intelligence company. This is a concern because the company is using their AI to monitor and take notes about users’ behaviors. This use of data will allow for Chinese companies to have invasive surveillance apparatus. This privacy concern for US teens is an issue because children of US military officers who make these videos could give useful intelligence to the Chinese government, though there is no proof of this happening yet.
    My thoughts on this app is that it will be a fad much like Vine was. This app far too like Vine as a platform for me to believe that they will be successful in the long term. I personally have never used the app but many of my friends are on the app and the one thing that it confirmed for me was the fact that I am getting older because I don’t get it. This is beside the point, I do not believe that TikTok poses any security concern to the US government, I feel like this is a bit of a stretch to believe that this will have too many implications that concern national security, unless the data begins being mishandled and the app sticks around for more then just a few years. I do however believe that the fact that AI is given the task of collecting data on this and any other social media platform will lead to the invasion of personal privacy. To add to this the fact that is app targets the younger generations is unethical because they might not fully understand that what they post on the internet is there forever, and the use of AI is taking advantage of that and turning these situations into actionable data for marketing and other purposes.

  12. James Koerner September 27, 2019 at 9:36 pm #

    As someone with various social media accounts such as Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, I am always seeing TikTok videos make their way onto other media platforms. Normally, it is a video of a couple 13-year-olds singing a song or a famous Youtuber making up a skit. The app itself seems harmless and just a fun way that people can connect with others rather than your typical social media platform. Until I read this article, little did I know that the app’s parent company, ByteDance, is a Chinese-based artificial intelligence company. According to the article, user data is shared in the United States, only where TikTok operates and not in China. However, the article also states that any data can be shared with any related party to TikTok. This really means that TikTok can collect data on its users and share it with ByteDance in China. Many people will wonder why that can be such an issue. There are several Chinese tech companies that have violated international law and have had direct affiliation with the Chinese government. Huawei, a Chinese telecommunications company, has instances of them having ties to the Chinese government (https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/huawei-chinas-controversial-tech-giant). Huawei is under investigation by the United States as they have stolen intellectual property and violated various international sanctions. The company is treated as national security threat to the United States government.
    As for ByteDance, there isn’t any evidence of them doing this, nor is there any hard evidence of Huawei spying for the Chinese government. These are mere speculations, but as a top superpower with the United States, we can only imagine that the Chinese government would go above and beyond to ensure that they are gathering as much data as possible on American citizens. In my opinion, TikTok being a subcompany of the Chinese artificial intelligence company raise red flags. Why would an intelligence company stem out to social media? The only reason that seems plausible is that they want to gather data and intelligence on users. TikTok has a huge market in the United States, and claims that they only share data within the United States. This doesn’t seem to reassuring as it certainly wouldn’t be difficult for ByteDance to gather this data and share it with the Chinese government. Just like Huawei, if this were happening, it is very difficult to prove as there is no public evidence of either company actually colluding with the Chinese government.
    The article also mentions FaceApp, an app that allows the user to see what they look like when they are aged, which is made by a Russian company. Similar to TikTok, it is controversial for a Russian company to create an app like this. People were worried that the FaceApp was collecting data on users through facial recognition and possibly sharing it with the Russian government. Again, there is no direct evidence of any of this happening, but the American government has to look at it as a potential nation security threat. A great point that the article mentions is that if the child of a sensitive military officer is using TikTok, it is possible for data to be collected on the child and their parent by the Chinese. This could be a very real threat for government officials, military officers, or anyone that is operating covertly. It not only endangers their lives, but the lives of their families and it poses a threat to the entire nation. I for one do not have TikTok, and I don’t have any intentions on getting it. After reading this article, however, I am now certain that I won’t be getting it, and I will be more aware of what applications I am installing on my phone and how my data could be potentially collected against my authority.

  13. Rav Gill October 1, 2019 at 1:12 pm #

    After reading about the app Tiktok, I was able to learn something new about how China develops its apps and for what reason. It seems like the intent of the app was to gain user data not from within their country but the United States. The fact that the app is Chinese and users in the United States are using it is a little worrisome because of all the spying that has been going around. It seems like nothing is safe anymore. Some app has interference from a foreign enemy or ally, but trying to deceive the United States. The app is going to rise in popularity, but “… it could become a Chinese vacuum for coveted American data” (tiktok is China’s … Weapon) according to the article. And, the problem is that this isn’t the first app that is owned by a foreign country that everyone worried about stealing our data. Faceapp which is created by a Russian startup was believed to be getting “… users’ photo libraries” (Tiktok is China’s … Weapon) and stealing that data. This causes an issue because what if a high ranking Army officer’s daughter or son use the app in the house, could it take pictures of their families and identify that they are part of the Military.And, “… you can’t escape Chinese social media giants…” (Tiktok is China’s … Weapon) because Tiktok was advertised vicariously throughout the United States through ads and social media. They knew how to reach the user population in the states and made that their primary target. As another user mentioned above, “… the platform and the data might be able to be mined such as an IP address which can identify the location of the individual” (Bagnell) and cause serious consequences. At that point the house address can be found and someone could do something harmful to that individual. We shouldn’t always think of extreme cases because we could be overdoing it, but it could be a possibility with everything the United States has been dealing with.
    The biggest concern that still exists for people who have been keeping up to date on the news is data privacy. Tiktok supposedly stores user data from the different countries where people use its app in third party based systems within that country. However, “It later confirmed to him that “data from Tiktok users who joined the service before February 2019 may have been processed in China”” (Tiktok is China’s … Weapon). After reading that, I don’t know how much of whose data was stored in China at that point and that could lead to serious problems. If you read any review about the app, you see a common theme of the amount of data that is collected by the app. It goes anywhere from cookies, browsing history, user comments to unique device identifiers (Tiktok … App Review). That is a scary large amount of things they collect and some of the things they collect seems unnecessary. I personally would not download the app because there are so many other platforms that I could use instead of Tiktok and not be as concerned about my data. The company that created Tiktok purchased Grindr which had to be sold because of the restrictions the United States put on them for data collection (Tiktok … App Review). The United States can only force their hand so much before they come up with something that takes advantage of loopholes.
    And, to be honest if someone says that China did something we would react differently to it than we would to the Ukraine doing something. Maybe we are concerned for no reason, but due to recent transactions with them, we have uncovered some bad things. When there is a hack we point our fingers at two major players, the Chinese or the Russian. Just last year, the Chinese hacked a Navy contractor and got access to sensitive data. They purposely did this so imagine what they could do through an app that has millions of naive users. They said that the Chinese stole “… highly sensitive data related to undersea warfare- including secret plans to develop a supersonic anti-ship missile…” (China hacked a … submarine …) which is a huge problem. China caused us a huge headache, but it also turned the tables on our Navy because people were questioning their ability to hire contractors who could store sensitive data securely. I mean that was a clear aim at us, but we don’t know if profit is there true and only motive behind the app. Personally I am not downloading the app because I don’t trust a foreign company who is our competitor to not compromise my data.

    https://www.cybersafetycop.com/tik-tok-formally-musical-ly-app-review/

    https://www.axios.com/tiktok-china-online-privacy-personal-data-6b251d22-61f4-47e1-a58d-b167435472e3.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosam&stream=top

  14. Alyssa Bromke October 2, 2019 at 3:49 pm #

    I find this article very interesting as I am a Tik Tok user. I believe that everything in this article could possibly happen. Do I think it is likely, for the reasons explained? No. Tik Tok, and other apps that could be used to “collect data” for government secrets are far and few between. It is crazy to think that a government would go for data that is being stored by apps like Tik Tok. I believe the only thing that other countries could possibly want from an app like Tik Tok is to take note of weaknesses in the app and make a better one. I do not believe that all apps made are going to help China take over the United States. I think it is similar to a loop hole in the system of R&D. If you are creating a social media app, wouldn’t you want to look at other social media apps and see what users like and dislike? The answer is yes. If you don’t do that your app will not be successful. Each social media app is unique in certain ways that can be viewed as “better” than the others. Furthermore they all have things in common as well. I think that doing the R&D is legal and should not be frowned upon. Although there are concerns that there could be more of a malicious intent behind the use of information. There are ways to protect that information and to combat the efforts of malicious intents. This can be accomplished by creating more laws that combat social media data usage. In addition there is a part in the article that suggests China could have had access to users data if posted before February 2018. This shows that since the creation of Tik Tok there are more laws in place protecting the future data past Feb 2018.

  15. Sarah I October 4, 2019 at 5:17 pm #

    This article about TikTok is quite fascinating. TikTok is a major social media platform where children (and sometimes adults) make videos about themselves with some sort of song or voice over in the background. Sounds harmless, right? According to this article, it is not as harmless as it may seem. If anything, using social media is becoming more dangerous. Social Media platforms like Facebook were getting attacked by users because they didn’t keep private information private. However, this app could be doing the same thing, but it isn’t under as much scrutiny because what 14 year old really thinks about their private information. Big Chinese tech companies are really trying to invade the U.S social media market and if they are successful, our information and national security information could be at risk. Erica Pandey stated in the article, “Say there’s a sensitive U.S. military officer with a kid who’s making memes on TikTok. Is it possible that there’s data being collected through that usage that could be useful to a Chinese intelligence service? Yeah, that’s possible. But we haven’t seen evidence of that yet,” (https://www.axios.com/tiktok-china-online-privacy-personal-data-6b251d22-61f4-47e1-a58d-b167435472e3.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosam&stream=top). The fact that she says it is possible is definitely worrisome. Just because there is no public “evidence” of it yet, doesn’t mean it isn’t already happening. We have no idea what goes on in those data centers in China. Using stored data from Tiktok could already be happening because its 2018 privacy policy stated user data could be shared “with any member or affiliate of [its] group” (https://www.axios.com/tiktok-china-online-privacy-personal-data-6b251d22-61f4-47e1-a58d-b167435472e3.html?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=newsletter_axiosam&stream=top). Also, if an individual joined the service before February of 2019, their information may have been processed in China. It’s unfortunate that U.S Tech companies can not make their way into the Chinese market. If the inverse was happening to individuals in China, I think the whole thing would be shut down rather quickly. The scary part about this is kids have no idea what’s happening and will probably continue to use the platform.
    DeVante Morales stated in a comment above, “Maybe as American citizens we should do our research into companies before giving up all of our personal information to them.” I can absolutely agree with this statement. We as Americans are very naïve when it comes to giving up our personal information. We agree to privacy policies we don’t even read half the time and have no idea what we are agreeing to. This sort of misuse of personal data is becoming more and more normalized as technology continues to grow. We need to be aware of the world around us and make sure we are keeping ourselves and our kids safe, even if that means not having every single social media platform. Privacy is more important than sharing pictures and videos with your friends.

  16. Noelle Arrighi October 4, 2019 at 7:47 pm #

    Prior to 2018, “Tik Tok” was nothing but a poorly spelt overplayed pop song from 2009, now it could potentially be the factor that gives China an advantage in the proxy conflict between the United States. Although, the United States is an international superpower, China is the country that could be threatening to the United States’ relative position in the international system, therefore, America cannot take any risks when it comes to the communist country’s economic presence. This is especially dangerous because the primary generation on TikTok is young users who are more likely to be careless when online. Although, TikTok requires their users to be at least thirteen years of age to create an account, many lie and even teenagers are known to be irresponsible online. It is all too easy for a teenager to agree or say yes to something just to make it go away without fully understanding the repercussions of what they have done. With one frustrated click a child could sign away the rights to their Apple account which would include their family’s credit card and passwords. This is an age old problem outside of TikTok, however the repercussions become even more severe when China, one of the few countries that has the potential to tip the international system out of favor of the United States, is involved. According to Quartz’s David Caroll, when TikTok was at its prime in late 2018, there was a section in their private policy that stated, user data could be shared with any member or affiliate of [its] group, which exists in China. A later statement came out correcting this, however the actions of the past remained unchanged, confirming that data from TikTok users who joined the service before February 2019 may have been processed in China (Savitsky). TikTok has confirmed the Chinese government does not have access to their users’ data, this does not mean that they will not do the same thing with another app to find out information that would threaten the security of the United States or infringe on people’s privacy. Frequently, stories of apps using users information in a way that they did not know, for instance, the app that makes people look like they are senior citizens was rumored to have been using the pictures of people for their own use. The United States needs to be extremely cautious about this because this is something that could easily happen under the noses of those in power and China will only admit to it if they are caught.

  17. Corinne Roonan October 8, 2019 at 10:41 pm #

    With the relations between China and the United States becoming more tense each day, it is no wonder there is fear over American data reaching Chinese hands. With the high popularity of social media, in this case Tik Tok, there is probable cause for fear of these social media platforms belonging to Chinese companies. This fear though, rests with the older generation, not with those who use these newer social media platforms.
    When first reading this article, I was not initially convinced that this was an actual issue. I feel as though many Americans tend to get up in arms over any tiny threat. I did not realize, though, before reading this article, that there was such a huge threat. The issue with the company that manages and owns Tik Tok is called ByteDance, considers itself an artificial intelligence company, not a social media company. This is a major cause for fear because artificial intelligence is able to be used as a weapon against others; in this case against America.
    Understanding this threat is incredibly complex; it begins with the competition between China and the United states building each day. Both modern, technologically progressive countries are racing to be more powerful than the other. Because of this, there is always fear of data and information reaching the opponent; that is what is happening in this current situation. With Tik Tok being owned by a Chinese company that prides itself in its artificial intelligence, it makes complete sense that the company is using data found on the app to create data bases of information that can be used against the United States.
    So why don’t people just stop using Tik Tok? Well, not enough people are aware of this app causing such issues. Plus, the users of the app did not read the user agreement that most definitely signs away the rights to any data on the app. Once that agreement is signed, the company has the rights to any data it can find on the app and even when the app is not in use if the user agreed to allow the app work in the backround. That is absolutely horrifying to know, and almost impossible to solve without the platform’s purchase by an American company.

  18. Edward S October 8, 2019 at 11:48 pm #

    The question is still looming of whether or not data that most would consider to be useless actually has valuable information. The current challenge of many social media platforms is attempting to figure out how to keep customers engaged with the product for longer periods of time. As artificial intelligence continues to increase in prominence for its future applications, if such data that was once considered to be seemingly useless has value, an ethical question is generated about whether or not the company who collected the data should have ownership of the data generated. Customer data does not have a definitive value, giving rise to its treatment as an intangible asset. The app is somewhat different from other types of social media in that the software that is making decisions about what to show people does not necessarily care about a person’s friendship network. Therefore easily seemingly random people can be connected by a common interest in a video.

    The consumers’ willingness to trust social media with their data and the implications of such trust are broad. Companies have creatively found ways to blur the transparency of legal agreements by finding ways to still send private user data to third parties. These mirror some comments made by blogger Rahul S. The bending of privacy agreements are evident in high profile cases such as Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. Indeed Brian Vecci who is the CTO for a cybersecurity company called Varonis found that it would take on average 27 minutes to read the privacy policy statement of a well known company. In addition to comprehend the privacy policy one would need a high school education and in some cases advanced degrees.

    Interestingly Alex Urbelis, a partner at Blackstone Law Group who is familiar with cybersecurity says that just a few points of data such as 3 or 4 points of location data is all that would actually be needed to de-anonymize data and determine your identity. This is quite shocking considering the various privacy agreements that claim to be collecting location-based data and making it anonymous (Schlesinger and Day 2019).
    The point is that society has adapted to becoming accepting of the notion that a company’s privacy statement might be riding the egde of the racing track as far as permissible behavior is concerned and the consequences of such behavior have become uncertain in the current social media age.

    Schlesinger, J. Day, A. 2019. Most people just click and accept privacy policies without reading them- you might be surprised at what they allow companies to do. CNBC. Retrieved from
    https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/07/privacy-policies-give-companies-lots-of-room-to-collect-share-data.html

  19. Jackson Beltrandi October 9, 2019 at 2:09 pm #

    After reading this article, it just makes me fear for people who are unaware of all the dangers that social media apps present. Before taking this law class, I was oblivious to all of the different privacy settings and user agreements that these apps use to sneakily access your data. In my opinion, the scariest part about TikTok is that the app is Chinese. Most of the concerns in the U.S. come from Instagram, Facebook, or Google, however these platforms are all governed by the constitution and the American federal government. Mark Zuckerberg was taken to trial for his privacy breach using facial recognition for collection of data on 30+ million users.
    TikTok attracting users all over the planet, brings up important jurisdiction and international law questions. Can TikTok, or FaceApp, a Russian startup, operate in the United States and not have to follow the laws that protect American citizens? If so, then that needs to change immediately. The collection of American data to these foreign companies can create severe national security concerns. The article mentions that if a military officer or government official is recording a harmless TikTok with their son or daughter, it is possible that data could be extremely useful to a Chinese intelligence database. However, U.S. data seems to be protected by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) – for now. This committee places restrictions on foreign social media apps and how they access and store data.
    TikTok claims that its data is stored in the U.S. and other that the app does not operate in China, hence the Chinese government has no access to TikTok data. I call their bluff. There is no way for the U.S. to verify that Chinese affiliates are not using our data for their own benefit. Also, TikTok’s previous privacy policy stated that user data could be shared with any member or affiliate in China. The data of users who joined before that change of the privacy policy is just floating around Chinese intelligence databases.
    All I can think about while reading these privacy articles how much our society has changed over the past two decades. When we were kids, it was to not take candy from a stranger or follow someone that you don’t know on your way home from school. When I’m a parent (hopefully that happens), I’m going to have to tell my kid to stop doing Fortnite dances on whatever social media app is prominent in the 2030’s.

  20. Victoria Balka October 10, 2019 at 3:17 pm #

    In the United States, TikTok is becoming a majorly popular app becoming among the ranks of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in the life of a young adult. While I personally do not use this app, I know many people that do, and I see advertisements for TikTok on a daily basis. Ever since the ending of Vine years ago, young adults have been looking for a fun video sharing social media platform and with the rise of TikTok, they finally found an app to replace it. TikTok is a huge app with many users with the app even making some people “famous” with the people who actively follow their posts. One of the major problems with this app is that is ran by a Chinese artificial intelligence company, so no one knows truly how much data they are storing and what information they have about their users. Although they say the data is now stored in the United States, and account that was made before April of this year was likely processed in China. While they say the information is not shared with China, in the user agreement they say the information you give up can be shared with anyone of an affiliate group which can mean people in China or the Chinese government. China having access to a lot of American young adults can cause many problems since the Chinese can access a lot of information about anyone and use the information to do something against the United States.
    I believe that the mass use of TikTok can lead to many problems, especially with information they can give to China from the many Americans using this app. With the app being owned by a Chinese artificial intelligence company instead of a typical social media company, it makes me wonder why an artificial intelligence company made a social media app and is storing its user’s information. In the future the company can possibly use the information they have from the TikTok users to create forms of artificial intelligence using their data. Many videos on TikTok include voices and with artificial intelligence the rise of having a real sounding computer voice based off some of a human’s words, this can cause a huge problem. Personally, I would not take the risk of downloading TikTok and giving my information to this Chinese company without knowing who will have and what they are planning to do with my information.

  21. Maeve Lersch October 15, 2019 at 9:06 pm #

    This article was very eye opening and enlightening for me to read. Prior to reading this article, I knew what TikTok was although I personally do not have the app, but I had no idea of the details of the company. In the article they explain how the company that owns TikTok views themselves as an artificial intelligence company which is not what I would expect the goal of the company to be. This means that their end goal is much larger than creating an entertainment platform that anyone can participate in. This leads to another point the article makes is that the purpose of the app and the company is to become a powerhouse in the American market through collecting data on the TikTok app. I personally find this very scary because it creates the idea of big brother watching us in a way. People joke all the time that the FBI is watching us through our computer cameras, but to read an article that suggests that this company trying to use our data to create a hold on the market gives the idea of people watching us a big reality check. At the end of the article it discusses how this one example could start a trend with other companies in China. This idea is also sits very uneasy with me as well because not only is this company purpose suspicious, but other companies may realize the potential in the idea of artificial intelligence companies used to capture the American market and adapt their own version of it which means there could be a multitude of companies collecting data about us.
    The article does talk about how the company has said that their information is not shared with Chinese government which is one of the main concerns of the article. It was said that the info is collected and stored in the US and only can be shared with affiliated members which would presume that it cannot be shared with the government. This reassures me a little to think that people’s information may actually be safe. Although this is slightly reassuring, I still am worrisome reading this article because other companies could go in the same direction as the parent company to TikTok.

  22. Tiffanny Reynolds October 18, 2019 at 5:16 pm #

    Admittedly, I saw the title of this article and thought, “I’m sorry, what?” And then I continued to read on. I find articles like these relating to current social media trends to be a bit obscure to me. Of course, being a part of this generation, I do understand a little about social media, but that’s it: only a little bit. I personally do not use social media often, and therefore I also do not know a lot about the way “user data” as described in the article is collected and exactly what it provides to the app creators. I initially would assume it’s just a lot of basic information such as gender, age, location, etc. to profile users like a census, and therefore get an idea of user demographics. But upon further thought, I can also assume this user data can be extracted for each individual user, and therefore risk personal security if in the wrong hands.
    With that, I find excessive use of social media to be detrimental in regards to personal security. For me, I do not use my real birthday if it is asked, by varying the month and/or day and/or year. I feel comfortable posting about places I visit on occasion, but for those who post constantly about where they are and/or what they’re doing are susceptible to more threats of internet security, naturally.
    I know TikTok is a video based app. I am not sure what all else the platform offers, but it seems to be less detail-oriented than other platforms, like Facebook for example, where one can share everything from their birthday to where they are “checking into”, even to whom they are related. I feel if anyone is worried about user data being taken and used irresponsibly, platforms that allow users to include more personal information, whether it is voluntary or not, seem to have a larger threat to one’s own internet security, even if those platforms like Facebook have greater security measures in place than those like TikTok.
    I did not know, however, that TikTok is a Chinese based company. I understand the concern regarding user data of American citizens possibly being evaluated by the Chinese government. That is honestly a big deal. The question here is do I, and others also reading this article, truly believe it? Part of me hears the baby boomers like my mother yelling in the back of my head to watch out and be wary of my social media presence before my accounts get hacked, etc.
    I personally do not think that the Chinese government is using an app to try to obtain secrets or valuable information from the American public. To be honest, I would not trust that the targeted demographic using the app: Gen-Z-ers (as we are apparently called?), have anything of high importance to contribute to any foreign power. I do not believe that this is some type of foreign infiltration that will result in World War III, as this article seems to suggest.
    However, I think it is a great reminder of what truly happens when we use social media, and that the app does not just want to know personal information like our birthdays to merely send us a little birthday notification on the date. It definitely digs deeper than that, but I don’t think it digs all the way to China.

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