Why TikTok’s Security Flaws Are Causing Worldwide Concern

by Ryan Lee
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The fight between the U.S. and China about TikTok will be clear to everyone on Thursday when the person in charge of the social media app speaks to some members of Congress.

Shou Zi Chew’s hearing is held at a very important time for the popular video sharing app called TikTok. This app is created by a company known as ByteDance based in Beijing, and it has over 150 million American users. People are worried that the app could be used to hurt national security, invade user privacy, or spread Chinese propaganda and fake news.

Chew is going to try and get lawmakers not to completely ban TikTok or switch its owners. So, what are the dangers of data security? Should we be concerned that TikTok will disappear from our phones? Here’s what you need to know:

FBI and FCC Sound Alarm

The FBI and Federal Communications Commission are worried that the company behind TikTok, ByteDance, could give your private information to the government in China. This includes stuff like what you do on the app, where you live, and even other unique identifiers. The Chinese government might use a law from 2017 which requires companies to hand over any personal data that is important for national security.

In December, there were worries about TikTok when its company ByteDance said it had let go of four workers who tried tracking the source of a report on them by looking at data from Buzzfeed News and The Financial Times. This has made their troubles worse, so they sent influencers to Washington and new guidelines ban using deepfakes of young people.

White House vs China

The US Treasury Department has an important committee called CFIUS, and they are reviewing the popular app TikTok. They have suggested banning it in America unless its Chinese owners sell their share of the company. China accused America of spreading false information about TikTok’s safety. The White House said there could be real security threats with protecting data.

Last year, some U.S senators wanted the CFIUS (some organization) to hurry up and get done with their investigation. They also asked CFIUS to put rules in place like splitting up the companies of TikTok and ByteDance. Also, some laws have been suggested that would give President Biden power to completely ban TikTok in the United States – and he has already said yes to a plan which has approval from both political sides.

Governments Worldwide Reject TikTok

Governments in North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific have not allowed people to use the popular TikTok app on their government-rented phones or devices used for work. Last week, Britain said no to using the app on government phones while New Zealand decided that politicians and workers at Parliament cannot have it on their phones.

The European Union, Denmark, Canada, Norway and the Netherlands have all told their people who work for them that they can’t use TikTok on their phones at work. They also said that no future civil servants should download the app either.

The White House said that U.S. federal agencies must get rid of the TikTok app from all phones given by the government. Lots of other people in the country, like Congress, the American military, and more than half of all states have already blocked this app too.

5 Billion Project to Ensure Data Protection for 150 Million TikTok Users in the US

This week, Chew posted a video on TikTok to oppose a potential ban. He said that a ban could take away the app from 150 million American users. In his testimony, he’s going to explain how even better than its competitors, TikTok protects user data and secures it online.

In an effort to prevent a total ban from the US, a project worth $1.5 billion called Project Texas is set up so that data from US users is routed through servers controlled by Oracle, a Silicon Valley company. All older data stored in other non-Oracle servers will be deleted this year. According to Chew, this way of arrangement ensures that Beijing cannot access the data.

TikTok is trying to show that ByteDance, the company it belongs to, is made up of lots of different people from all over the world – 60% global investors, 20% employees and 20% Chinese entrepreneurs who started the whole thing. TikTok’s headquarters are in Singapore too.

Privacy Expansion

It’s all based on who you ask.

Some people that care about tech privacy say it’s worrying how the Chinese government can misuse our private data. However, some other technology companies are also collecting user information for their own gain.

Evan Greer, the director of a group that fights for people’s rights, said that if anyone wants to protect Americans from surveillance, they should make a law which stops companies from collecting private data about individuals. He also mentioned that this would be better than the current policy which does nothing to help anyone.

Karim Farhat, a researcher with the Internet Governance Project at Georgia Tech, believes that selling TikTok goes against the internet freedom principles set by the State Department and is not related to any ‘national security threats’. However, some people think there is still a reason to be worried.

TikTok users might wonder if what they are posting is interesting for any foreign government. The answer us yes, according to Anton Dahbura from Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute. This is because information that can be valuable to a foreign government isn’t only related to nuclear power plants or military facilities but also includes other industries like food processing, the finance sector and universities.

US Government Set to Block Chinese Companies from Selling Products in America

The US government has stopped Huawei and ZTE (two Chinese companies) from selling products in America because it’s not safe for their country. But, this could be difficult to do if the product is an app because the First Amendment (the freedom of speech part of the law) might argue that this goes against people’s rights.

In 2020, after getting an order from a U.S government body called CFIUS, a Chinese mobile video game company called Beijing Kunlun had to sell their gay dating app Grindr for $608.5 million dollars. They also agreed to not send any sensitive user data to China and keep the headquarters of Grindr in the US.

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