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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16 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.


  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”.

  9. Walter Dingwall November 22, 2019 at 12:13 pm #

    China is generally appearing to be an isolationist country is the news. This makes its massive economic growth, compared to the U.S., unusual. Something else that is unusual is that such a country would develop of the most popular social media platforms globally – TikTok. By administrating this app with great success into the countries that it tends to be at odds with in so many other fields, there should be actions taken by said countries to return the favors of China. The U.S. has restricted Huawei products and other Chinese surveillance services, as Li Yuan mentions in her New York Times article, to avail.
    China’s recent policies to give the government power to collect any data that enters Chinese systems at its own will should incline countries, who’s data will be subject to such a policy, to strictly protect their selves from apps like TikTok. This comes at what would generally be a miniscule loss of comfort through technology for the risk of data security that TikTok is a vehicle of.
    However, the lenience of the app may have something to do with its claimed resistance to turnover the control of content to the government, which would come in the form of removing progressive, liberal content that would be detectable as being against the mainland, against the Government. By holding these alleged principles, TikTok can run as a product that is to do with the western ideals of expression and, in some cases, freedoms.
    In some way or another, it does appear that the Chinese government will be the end of TikTok. If the app’s demise comes from China’s policy on data collection, it will have come with the non-Chinese nations’ withdrawal due to the data security risks that come from allowing Chinese software to collect data and store it on Chinese systems, in the most harmful crosshairs. If the Chinese government decides to come down on the app to prevent users from seeing content that would put China’s current government in a negative light, this could also be TikTok’s end, as the creator may shut it down, or the users will avoid it for this act.

  10. Alyssa Lackland November 23, 2019 at 2:34 pm #

    While I do understand that there are concerns revolving around China censoring non-Chinese citizens’ content on Tik Tok due to that content not being “in line with the Chinese Government and Communist Party directives”, there is more to think about. Indeed, China has no right to censor US citizens’ online content, due to the US Constitutions’ 1st amendment declaring US citizens freedom of speech. Moreover, with the recent trade disputes between the US and China, it seems like the US should be increasingly wary about what “Made in China” products we allow in our country- especially on the internet where breaches happen so often/our national security can be so easily compromised. As discussed in both TID’s 2 and 3, I believe that the solution to this problem lies within enacting a greater volume of federal laws/regulations within the world of online contracts and online privacy. If said legislation is not quickly enacted, then the US should be more careful about what companies we sell our internet services to. As I conducted more research on TikTok being bought by ByteDance- a Chinese internet technology company- I skimmed through their terms of service contract. It has a section which states:

    “We reserve the right, at any time and without prior notice, to remove or disable access to content at our discretion for any reason or no reason. Some of the reasons we may remove or disable access to content may include finding the content objectionable, in violation of these Terms or our Community Policy, or otherwise harmful to the Services or our users. Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”

    TikTok has adequately informed it’s users (regardless of where they live) that they do obtain the right to remove content “for any reason or no reason”. This goes back to the classes long discussions on whether or not users should be able to fight for their personal data rights in the world of online contracts- in this case, the contract was made by a company located overseas. Hence, it will be monitored according to Chinese values and laws- and this is truly where the issue lies. As countries are globalizing more and more due to greater online presence, what laws should be enacted to bring each nation justice?

  11. Daniel J Cambronero December 6, 2019 at 3:49 pm #

    Tik Tok is a new, up and coming social media application among younger smartphone users and I myself am one of those users.

    The way the application works is similar to most other social media platforms, you scroll up and down to go through your feed however, Tik Tok is a platform of short videos that are often mashed up with popular songs as well as videos of pop culture references. You can follow other users you enjoy and using a mix of posts you have liked and users you follow, the application uses an algorithm that predicts other Tik Tok videos you would enjoy. As I was on the application the other day I thought about this algorithm and how Tik Tok collects data about you however, instead of the usual data that is being collected on you such as your name, items you’ve looked up and such, the data being harvested is videos you enjoy watching. The data being collected is literally what is your personality type and it is accurate enough to the point where the suggested videos they show are almost all of the time enjoyable for the user. This started to scare me a bit because with the world entering a new era of technology and data, I would like to keep my data secure, especially data that literally contains my likes and interests. However, I also started to think about what other companies who work in similar fashions and I realized that YouTube does the same thing except YouTube has been around collecting data since 2005… Another thing I took into account while reading this article was that YouTube is an American based company so at least my data isn’t roaming around a foreign country however, Tik Tok is a Chinese based application which raises more problems. One of which is, the data being accumulated about me could later on be used against me in the form of politically charged videos that China is using to sway my vote which would not be surprising being that foreign countries have been trying to influence American elections dating back since the Cold War so it’s no surprise that a country the U.S. has been butting head to head with recently, may use data of younger voters to sway elections.

  12. Jessica Romero December 6, 2019 at 9:05 pm #

    TikTok is the hottest app right now especially for the younger demographic. TikTok seems to be the new vine, there trendy short videos used for entertainment. This app being newer on the market as picked up a tremendous amount of buzz and doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Will I think it will survive and stick around like Instagram and Twitter? Absolutely not. It is one of those fads just like Vine, it’s for mere entertainment and after you’re done with it you’re ready for the next best thing. TikTok like most apps collect our data within what we like, we search up and then some. Similar to Instagram, if we like something about fashion we see more of those things on our timeline, or even advertisements for fashion brands. The main concern I have for this app is that the younger crowd roughly are in middle school if not in high school and their data is exposed internationally. TikTok has a right to remove content for any or no reason which is completely unfair and is extremely vague. I’ve had friends post of videos of themselves, it is very appropriate and for whatever reason TikTok said it violated their policies, but they didn’t say what exactly it was they were violating. All in all, TikTok should be more specific about their rules and regulations before allowing users to go on this app.

  13. Noelle Arrighi December 9, 2019 at 12:07 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.

  14. Erin Shaklee January 24, 2020 at 8:15 pm #

    Shane Savitsky article “ TikTok is China’s next big weapon”, explains the dangers Americans may face using the app. He explains how TikTok’s parent company first introduced itself as an “artificial intelligence company” in china. He also explains how it has the potential to obtain secure American data simply from its users. This information causes alarm to me; As a TikTok user, I spend hours wasting my time looking at random videos to entertain me. With this new discovery, I will need to reconsider what information about myself I choose to share on the app.
    The issue with that users will face using the app is that Chinese government and business can use their information to sell and make a profit, use against the U.S or even worse. Previously, the Chinese have taken intellectual property such as patents and trademarks, and used it to generate their own. Though TikTok claims they are independent from the Chinese as of 2018, Saviksky explains that users who joined before that are at risk of having their personal data given to Bytedance, the parent company of TikTok. Beyond this, it is a leap of faith to believe that TikTok is completely independent of its original purpose. People enter the software without contemplating the wide range of effects that the data that they post can be used for. Users are under the impression that they are using the software for one thing, while the Chinese may have completely different motives. It is questionable to assume that the Chinese citizens have unregulated access to the internet. If they are willing to spy on their own society, why wouldn’t they spy on us.
    Most people, including myself will never know the amount of their personal data that is retrievable to other people. With this in mind, TikTok has created a platform to allow unsuspecting people to reveal their facial and personal information without knowing the consequences. It is hard to put blame on one party specifically; the Chinese creators who formed the artificial intelligence software, the current owner of TikTok being aware of the concerns with the platform, or the users who were not cautious when joining the platform.

  15. Felipe Salas January 24, 2020 at 9:24 pm #

    Tik Tok has become one of the most popular social media platforms. As a frequent user of said platform, I have been aware of the many speculations that have emerged regarding the app’s algorithm. It seems logical that the app, being the property of a Chinese company, will have various restrictions as a result of the harsh law enforced by the Chinese government, which is known for censorship of the media and oppression of the public for political hegemony. However, this app has users all over the world. This makes it difficult to filter all the content posted. Aside from content that violates community guidelines common to all social media platforms, TikTok sometimes seems to target certain types of content for their removal. Many times this content being of political nature. The owner of the app stating denying censorship of political content does not assure us that that is actually true. Considering Facebook’s controversy of privacy violations, digital platforms can never be completely trusted. On one occasion, I posted a video of political nature to my TikTok account to test the censorship presumptions. Eventually, the video that I posted, which contained information about US politics, was removed. I believe that this app seeks to limit the content posted by its users to be solely for entertainment. Censorship more than a violation of freedom of speech is a conservative strategy adopted by the app to avoid any legal issues that could arise in conflict with the government that encompasses the company that owns it.

  16. Felipe Salas January 24, 2020 at 9:25 pm #

    Tik Tok has become one of the most popular social media platforms. As a frequent user of said platform, I have been aware of the many speculations that have emerged regarding the app’s algorithm. It seems logical that the app, being the property of a Chinese company, will have various restrictions as a result of the harsh law enforced by the Chinese government, which is known for censorship of the media and oppression of the public for political hegemony. However, this app has users all over the world. This makes it difficult to filter all the content posted. Aside from content that violates community guidelines common to all social media platforms, TikTok sometimes seems to target certain types of content for their removal. Many times this content being of political nature. The owner of the app stating denying censorship of political content does not assure us that that is actually true. Considering Facebook’s controversy of privacy violations, digital platforms can never be completely trusted. On one occasion, I posted a video of political nature to my TikTok account to test the censorship presumptions. Eventually, the video that I posted, which contained information about US politics, was removed. I believe that this app seeks to limit the content posted by its users to be solely for entertainment. Censorship more than a violation of freedom of speech is a conservative strategy adopted by the app to avoid any legal issues that could arise in conflict with the government that encompasses the company that owns it.

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