What’s wrong with TikTok? – POLITICS

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Expressed by artificial intelligence.

Western governments are ticked off with TikTok. The Chinese-owned app, popular with teenagers around the world, has been accused of facilitating spying, failing to protect personal data and even corrupting young minds.

Governments in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand and across Europe have moved to ban the use of TikTok on government employees’ phones over the past few months. If the hawks are successful, the app could face further restrictions. The White House demanded that ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, sell the app or face an outright ban in the US

But are the allegations piling up? Security officials have given few details on why they are acting against TikTok. This may be due to sensitivity around national security issues, or it may simply indicate that there isn’t much substance behind the bluster.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will be questioned in the US Congress on Thursday and can expect politicians from all sides to question him about the dangers of TikTok. Here are some of the topics they can cover:

1. Chinese access to TikTok data

Perhaps the most pressing concern is the Chinese government’s potential access to the data treasures of millions of TikTok users.

Western security officials have warned that ByteDance could be subject to Chinese national security laws, specifically the 2017 National Security Act which requires Chinese companies to ‘support, assist and cooperate’ with intelligence efforts nationals. This law is a blank check for Chinese spy agencies, they say.

TikTok user data could also be accessed by the company’s hundreds of Chinese engineers and operations staff, each of whom could work for the state, Western officials say. In December 2022, some ByteDance employees in China and the United States targeted Western media journalists using the app (and were subsequently fired).

EU institutions banned their staff from having TikTok on their work phones last month. An internal email sent to staff at the European Data Protection Supervisor, seen by POLITICO, said the move was “to reduce the Commission’s exposure to cyberattacks because this app collects so much data on mobile devices that could be used to stage an attack on the Commission.

And the Irish Data Protection Commission, TikTok’s main privacy regulator in the EU, is expected to decide in the coming months whether the company illegally transferred European user data to China.

Skeptics of the security argument say the Chinese government could simply be buying troves of user data from loosely regulated brokers. American social media companies like Twitter have had their own problems protecting user data from the prying eyes of foreign governments, they note.

TikTok says it has never provided data to the Chinese government and would refuse if asked to do so. Strictly speaking, ByteDance is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, which TikTok says would shield it from legal obligations to help Chinese agencies. ByteDance is 20% owned by its founders and Chinese investors, 60% by global investors and 20% by employees.

There is little hope of completely stopping European data from going to China | Alex Plavevski/EPA

The company unveiled two separate plans to protect data. In the United States, Project Texas is a $1.5 billion plan to build a wall between the American subsidiary and its Chinese owners. The €1.2 billion European version, named Project Clover, would move most of TikTok’s European data to servers in Europe.

Nonetheless, TikTok’s top European lobbyist Theo Bertram also said in March that it would be “practically extremely difficult” to completely stop European data from going to China.

2. A gateway for Chinese spies

If Chinese agencies cannot legally access TikTok data, they can simply enter through the backdoor, Western officials say. Chinese cyber spies are among the best in the world, and their work will be made easier if the data sets or digital infrastructure are hosted in their home territory.

Dutch intelligence agencies have advised government officials to uninstall apps from countries waging an “offensive cyber program” against the Netherlands – including China, but also Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Critics of the cyber-espionage argument point to a 2021 study by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab, which found the app didn’t exhibit the “overtly malicious behavior” one would expect. spyware. However, the director of the laboratory said researchers lacked information on what happens to TikTok data held in China.

Both Project Texas and TikTok’s Project Clover include measures to allay fears of cyber espionage, as well as lawful access to data. The EU plan would give a (yet to be determined) European security vendor the power to audit cybersecurity policies and data controls, and restrict access to certain employees. Bertram said that provider could speak with European security agencies and regulators “without us (TikTok) being involved, to provide assurance that there is nothing to hide.”

Bertram also said the company is looking to hire more engineers outside of China.

3. Privacy Rights

TikTok critics have accused the app of massive data collection, particularly in the United States, where there are no general federal privacy rights for citizens.

In jurisdictions that have strict privacy laws, TikTok faces numerous allegations of non-compliance with them.

The company is under investigation in Ireland, the UK and Canada for its handling of underage user data. Watchdogs in the Netherlands, Italy and France also investigated its privacy practices regarding personalized advertising and for failing to restrict children’s access to its platform.

TikTok has denied the accusations made in some of the reports and argued that US tech companies collect the same large amount of data. Meta, Amazon and others have also been heavily fined for violating Europeans’ privacy.

4. Psychological operations

Perhaps the most serious charge, and certainly the most novel in legal terms, is that TikTok is part of an overall Chinese civilizational struggle against the West. Its role: to spread disinformation and mind-numbing content in young Western minds, sowing division and apathy.

Earlier this month, the director of the US National Security Agency warned that Chinese control of TikTok’s algorithm could allow the government to conduct influence operations with Western populations. TikTok says it has around 300 million active users in Europe and the United States. The app is ranked as the most downloaded in 2022.

What's wrong with TikTok? – POLITICS
A woman watches a video of Egyptian influencer Haneen Hossam | Khaled Desouki/AFP via Getty Images

Reports emerged in 2019 suggesting that TikTok was censoring pro-LGBTQ content and videos mentioning Tiananmen Square. ByteDance has also been accused of streaming mindless videos that waste Western children’s time, unlike the wholesome educational content offered on its Chinese app Douyin.

Along with accusations of deliberate “influence operations”, TikTok has also been criticized for failing to protect children from addiction to its app, dangerous virus challenges and misinformation. The French regulator said last week that the app was still in the “very early stages” of content moderation. TikTok’s Italian headquarters was raided this week by the consumer protection regulator with the help of Italian law enforcement to investigate how the company protects children from viral challenges.

Citizen Lab researchers said TikTok does not apply overt censorship. Other critics of this argument have pointed out that Western-owned platforms have also been manipulated by foreign countries, such as Russia’s Facebook campaign to influence the 2016 US election.

TikTok says it has adapted its content moderation since 2019 and regularly publishes a transparency report on what it removes. The company also touted a “transparency center” that opened in the US in July 2020 and one in Ireland in 2022. It also said it would comply with new EU content moderation rules, the Digital Services Act, which will require platforms to give regulators and researchers access to their algorithms and data.

Additional reporting by Laura Kayali in Paris, Sue Allan in Ottawa, Brendan Bordelon in Washington, DC, and Josh Sisco in San Francisco.


Not all news on the site expresses the point of view of the site, but we transmit this news automatically and translate it through programmatic technology on the site and not from a human editor.
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