TikTok has been at the center of debate since it first exploded in popularity in 2018, and especially since the pandemic. Criticisms of the app include accusations of data harvesting, inappropriate and/or harmful content, and connection to the Chinese government and ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Multiple software engineers have shown TikTok’s ability to track keystrokes, spy on your location, monitor your clipboard and much more. Much of this data is not necessary for the app to function and so it raises the question, why on earth would TikTok need to collect this data? The answer is both obvious and alarming, we just need to look at who owns TikTok.
ByteDance is that owner, but the Chinese Communist Party through the use of ‘Golden Shares’, which grant them the right to appoint a board seat and grant voting rights over business decisions, tightly controls them and the rest of China’s tech sector. What’s more, China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law essentially guarantees that the CCP has access, whenever it wants, to any information ByteDance has collected, and thus any information TikTok has collected, including the private data of users in other countries. TikTok has already been caught targeting specific users’ data, such as journalists in the US, to supposedly identify leaks of confidential company information. China’s surveillance state is widely criticized for privacy violations and the consequences that people face when the Chinese state disapproves of their actions. As such, granting them so much access to our data is clearly a huge threat to our safety.
Finally, TikTok’s content is highly concerning, particularly when realizing the app largely targets children. TikTok trends featuring incredibly dangerous activities have repeatedly gone viral on the platform, from consuming chicken cooked in cough medication to holding one’s breath until passing out. People have suffered extreme injuries and even died because of these trends spread on TikTok.
Contrast this with the content on Douyin, the Chinese counterpart of TikTok. The most popular content on Douyin is education-centric, featuring information about the economy, finances, and lifestyle tips, so if we know that ByteDance is capable of creating a product where the content is significantly more beneficial and less harmful, we surely must then ask why they choose not to with their international product.
In response to these concerns, there are two potential solutions being floated at the moment, forcing a sale of the company away from Chinese ownership or simply banning the product in the US. TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, testified before Congress this past month to defend TikTok’s current state.
Accomplishing a feat few others have in recent years; he managed to unite both Democrats and Republicans. During the hearing, lawmakers from both parties were on the offensive against Chew and TikTok. Responding to Chew’s claims that the CCP had no access to user data Democratic lawmakers fired back that they “find that actually preposterous,” and when unsatisfied with his answers concerning the harmful content on the platform, they criticized his obfuscation calling him a “good dancer with words.” Not wanting to be outdone by their Democrat colleagues, Republicans were eager to press Chew as well. Whether it was raising China’s persecution of the Uyghurs or questioning Chew about recent reports that China was currently spying on specific American citizens.
If, by the end of the hearing, there was any change in lawmakers’ thoughts on banning TikTok, then they were more in favour, not less. And this is part of a larger trend towards governmental action against TikTok. The Wednesday before the hearing, the Senate passed legislation banning the app on government-issued devices and numerous states throughout the country have banned the app for state government-issued devices. Similar actions have been taken by the military. TikTok’s threat to users is undeniable and the sooner legislative action is taken to ban the app the better.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.