China’s TikTok Blazes New Ground. That Could Doom It.

from NYTs

American leaders have effectively thrown Huawei and a handful of Chinese surveillance technology companies out of the country, warning darkly of the national security and privacy threats of installing Made-in-China products into sensitive parts of the nation’s electronic infrastructure.

Now they have cast their fearful gaze on a new Chinese target: the dancing and singing teens and tweens of TikTok.

A secretive federal panel with a national security focus is reviewing the purchase of TikTok two years ago by a Chinese company called Bytedance, The New York Times and othersreported last week. Three senators have asked the Trump administration to review potential national security and privacy threats posed by the app, warning that Bytedance could strip out content that displeases the Communist Party, such as videos of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

TikTok denies that it censors political content. Videos supporting the protesters and declaring “Reclaim Hong Kong!” can be found on the app.

More here.

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8 Responses to China’s TikTok Blazes New Ground. That Could Doom It.

  1. Joe Antonucci November 8, 2019 at 5:29 pm #

    By now it’s become painfully obvious to me (and others) that change is not always good. We have seemingly been programmed to cheer as new technology comes out, but this new age is bringing many complicated consequences to our front doors.

    The TikTok situation should hit close to home as it disproportionately involves our youth. TikTok is popular among teens but even children are using it. All of my young cousins (as young as 7) are on the app and post regularly.

    The problem arises when we consider that TikTok is based in China. Though most of the concerns about TikTok acting as an arm of the communist Chinese surveillance apparatus are not backed by hard evidence, the concern may arise with different companies in the future.

    We know that the Internet has largely been a free place because many of the most popular websites were based in the United States. This has been called into question by China’s economic growth and subsequent rise to prominence on the Internet.

    The golden question is, which country will be dominant on the Internet? American companies maintaining control would obviously be preferable to Chinese companies that are required to censor content.

    I saw a video just last week of a Chinese woman being arrested in her own home for apparently posting inflammatory content on social media. Now, I won’t say that American companies are doing a great job protecting dissenting speech. In fact, they’re quite awful. But, the worst that can happen to anyone posting content further right than Hillary Clinton is the inconvenience of being deplatformed. Of course, this problem is getting worse, with political commentator Stefan Molyneux being banned from PayPal, among others [1].

    In any case, we have the First Amendment and free speech is at least partially respected in the United States. Countries like China are not even democratically lead, so if they gained dominance on the Internet in the following decades, it would not bode well for the rest of the world that is used to enjoying a largely free and open Internet.

    TikTok represents a massive success by a Chinese company, with hundreds of millions of their users being in the United States. As the article states, TikTok claims it wouldn’t comply with a Chinese government request to censor content, but other companies that are sure to follow may not be so resilient.

    Other examples of this issue not related to the Internet are obvious to viewers of the NBA, where characters such as Lebron James have outed themselves as Chinese puppets who oppose free speech.

    [1] https://www.newsweek.com/alt-right-youtuber-cut-off-paypal-donations-1469936

  2. Shamar K November 8, 2019 at 6:54 pm #

    Before reading this article, I had no idea TikTok was bought by a Chinese technology company. With that being said, I don’t buy into the ultimate concern that it has influence on the political decisions of the consumers. TikTok, in my opinion, is just another platform for people to post whatever content that they choose to post. There are more influential apps such as Twitter and Facebook that have much more power in swaying the opinions of the user. I believe that America, just like the article states, is just afraid of a company like ByteDance having such an exponential growth. They have the potential to compete with the likes of Facebook which is a significant statistic. Although I see TikTok as a harmless app, I do see the concern of it being the first social media platform based solely from China. The app has been doing crazy numbers online with over 1.5 billion downloads and 122 million of those being in America. Tik Tok claims that all of their American users’ data are stored locally in America. Whether that statement is true or not, the fact that our data can potentially being backed up and stored on Chinese servers and networks can be a concern. The access to receive this data back can be very difficult and the loops and boundaries that we have no knowledge of regarding their legal system and how they govern apps and technology. I do like the feature included in a lot of Bytedance’s apps that involves the limiting of use of the app with set times. All in all TikTok, to me is just another fad. There is no real substance behind the app and is mostly made for silly dancing videos and meme creation. Even if they were to move toward a more serious approach and start implementing real world content and news worthy information, I feel like they would just flop. I myself have downloaded TikTok and after a few days I deleted it. There is not enough substance there for me and I feel that people will start realize the same.

  3. Corinne Roonan November 11, 2019 at 1:02 pm #

    Having written a previous comment about the issues with TikTok’s ownership falling to a Chinese company, I felt like I already knew enough about this topic. After reading this, though, I realized that really, there is so much to learn about this as it continues to grow and change as a part of society. This application, as the comments before me state, have a very large affect on young people in the United States, which causes privacy and data issues because of the tense relationship between China and the United States that currently exists. Unlike Shamar, though, I do not think TikTok is going away any time soon. People love it, have used it as a creative outlet, and are making money on content posted on the application. This is becoming as central to our society as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Vine (R.I.P.). It is only now on the rise. What does this mean for the United States and users in countries with tense relationships with China?
    Well, it means there are precautions that should be taken. The app should not be able to work in the backround, the app should not be used to post controversial information, and the app should not be given important information. While these steps are not totally going to fix the issue, these are beginning steps that could be used to prevent future issues relating to the privacy and data of users given to a Chinese company.

  4. Mikaela Battaglia November 11, 2019 at 7:27 pm #

    This past weekend I went home to see my family and a few of my friends who also came home this weekend. My best friend, Liz, goes to Penn State and came back telling me and my other friends about TikTok and how funny the videos were, and how she was addicted to watching them. Much like the popular app Vine (RIP), it is a social media platform where users can post short videos of whatever they please, in hopes to gain more followers and popularity. However, the entire time she was talking about TikTok all I could think about was how it was a Chinese ran social media app, unlike many of the other common ones used by people my age today like Snapchat or Instagram, and by using the app there could be possible repercussions.
    China’s strict rules about what is allowed to be run on their servers and soon the new implementation of nothing being hidden from the government, could cause problems for the app. As the article states, TikTok seems very sketchy about the ability to post about the politics in Hong Kong, and many are unsure if they have ties to the Chinese government. It also all comes down to user’s data. By using the Chinese run app, Americans are giving them insight into our search habits etc. that they could in turn use against us in some way. Also, towards the end of the article it states that Bytedance and other start-ups got in trouble for having crude and vulgar content within their app. The TikToks my friend was showing me were based off of the show Victorious that has recently been added onto Netflix, and many of them were very inappropriate as well. So even though TikTok is so successful, I wonder I the government will punish them as well for streaming content that does not coincide with their core values.
    In general, I think it is troublesome to the US to see such a popular and influential app like TikTok become so powerful in the world of social media solely because it is a Chinese based app. The US and China do not have similar privacy protection laws or standards at all, and I see that being an issue for the app in the future, and also China and US technological relations.

  5. Nick L November 14, 2019 at 10:47 am #

    There are a few concerns I have with TikTok being owned by a Chinese Company. There are many teenagers using this app that are mainly in grade school through high school. There is no specific age for how old you have to be to use the app. This would concern me as a parent of my child that is posting videos of themselves dancing. Having access to the videos and the data that the teenagers are posting on it is also concerning. I like the privacy and security threats being investigated because there is a lot to dive into. TikTok says information is stored in America but I do not believe that to be true. TikTok reports that it will take down content about the Hong Kong protest. This is to preserve their image most likely from the outside world. With 122 million downloads in the United States this is a lot of data they have access to. What exactly they are doing with the data from the 122 million downloads is not clear yet. Apps have been known go way too far with the data they have access to when you agree to download the app.
    Social media platforms have been known not to be safe in general. Knowing about all the security concerns revolving around Facebook is equally as concerning as TikTok. It is starting to get to the point to where there needs to be federal regulations on social networking platforms. There have been enough leaks and data breaches that this needs to be done. Especially when we are talking about young kids with smartphones that have the ability to make in-app purchases. Using their parents credit card to make purchases and then taking advantage of teenagers data. We are starting to see a trend where the United States is kicking out any Chinese owned companies that are doing well economically. First it was Huawei and now TikTok seems to be teetering that line. Chinese automakers will start to make their debut in the United States soon. Which makes me believe that many people will be skeptical at first. Only time will tell, I would like to see more regulations for apps and consumer trading from China to the United States.

  6. Victoria Balka November 14, 2019 at 11:50 am #

    With this being the second article I have read about the possible dangers of TikTok, I am able to say that the app may be a risk not worth taking. Since the United State’s government does not trust this app because the communist may be choosing what people can see, the Chinese can be using it for propaganda, and it may be storing everyone’s data. The things that people are worried this app is doing are extreme and can greatly impact our lives. For instance, if the Chinese government has access to all of your personal data after creating an account, they can use that for their country’s own good if there were to be a major conflict with America. Also, if the communist are censoring the app to only show videos that promote what they believe in, it can cause a huge impact on the political climate of the United States since all of the young people are suddenly believing in communist ideas without even realizing it. Lastly, if they were found using the app for propaganda, this can cause more impacts on the United States political climate since it can be impacting elections and who people vote for, just like they think Facebook did for the last election.
    While I believe the United States government may be targeting this app a little too much since they have no proof it is doing what they are accusing, I believe they should still investigate the true intentions of this app and the company behind it. With the world being as fragile as it is today, it is important that the government tries to protect its citizens and all of their personal data, which may mean removing this app from the country if it puts people’s private data at risk. Since this app is being mostly downloaded by teenagers, they do not fully understand what they are potentially giving up when they created the account and agreed to the terms of service. This can cause a huge problem since they may be giving up all of their information without realizing it to the Chinese government. The United States government needs to look more into this app and determine if it is safe for Americans to have on their phones.

  7. Tyler Abline November 14, 2019 at 1:25 pm #

    China’s censorship firewall is arguably more prevalent than their Great Wall in today’s world. China is the world leader in censorship, which goes against the basis of American values. The fact that a Chinese company owns a social media app as popular as Tik Tok is alarming. We are already seeing China exert it’s influence over freedom of speech in the United States in areas such as the NBA and various video games such as the recent controversy surrounding Blizzard. Blizzard has been banning players who voice pro Hong Kong sentiments on their platform while the NBA is being strong-armed into silence about the protests in Hong Kong. Big voices in the NBA such as LeBron James have shown that they fear China’s wrath more than they cherish American free speech. While NBA commissioner Adam Silver has expressed the league’s desire to defend the freedom of speech of it’s players, the economic leverage that China is attempting to enforce over the NBA is reprehensible. This issue extends far beyond Tik Tok, or video games, or even the NBA. The Hong Kong protests are a stark reminder that China is not in favor of freedom of speech or democracy, and for a Chinese company to be in charge of an outlet for Americans to express themselves is cause for concern. While it is a good sign that Tik Tok has not been taking down pro Hong Kong sentiments, a watchful eye needs to be kept on the app to ensure that China does not infringe on American rights and values on it.

  8. Alexander Nowik November 15, 2019 at 4:03 pm #

    To me this is yet another example of the difficulties companies are having with appeasing the Chinese government. Last month we saw the NBA and Blizzard entertainment both struggling to find solutions to the same problem. China is the worlds largest market (purely numbers-wise) and asserts its economical and political power over many corporations. One thing that I think makes TikTok a bit different from other social media apps is its audience being very young. On the one hand if TikTok were to begin promoting pro-CCP content, it’s young affluent audience might be influenced. On the other hand however, the only way there would really be pro-CCP content in the first place would be if younger chinese citizens made said content. It’s unlikely a government official or even a company higher-up could imitate the type of content a young person would enjoy, respect or connect with. However, I can appreciate the cautiousness of this article, because even though (as it points out) TikTok does not currently censor pro Hong Kong material, the chance of that staying the norm seems unlikely, as China has provably forced other companies to take a restrictive stance when it comes to any anti-CCP sentiment. The U.S. government possibly banning the app is just the icing on the cake in this scenario, as I think currently that would be a extreme action for them to take, considering the app has not done anything but be a social media where young teens can share “silly videos”.

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