• Alan Rosa

Lack Of Trust Towards TikTok

Last week, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said they were considering banning TikTok from Australian markets after growing concern on the safety of the app and it's content. Analyst Fergus Ryan said TikTok was filled with back door surveillance and propaganda, removing any Anti-China posts while supporting and promoting dramatic pro-China posts. 

In response to this news, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the Trump administration is “looking at” a ban on Chinese social media app TikTok. This announcement was made in the midst of a global debate on TikTok. Prior to Secretary Pompeo announcing that the U.S. Government is looking into a TikTok ban, Republican Senators Josh Hawley and Rick Scott introduced legislation to ban federal employees from using TikTok on government devices, citing national security concerns earlier in the year. TikTok reserves the right under its terms of service to collect location among other forms of data that could be useful to the Chinese government. Most cyber security experts caution that user behavior on TikTok could be used to train artificial intelligence systems.

Senator Hawley states: “TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that includes Chinese Communist Party members on its board, and it is required by law to share user data with Beijing, it has no place on government devices.”

Actions similar to what the U.S. and Australia have proposed are taking place in other parts of the world. After geopolitical conflict between the two countries, India announced it has banned TikTok alongside 58 other Chinese made apps. The Indian government said: “The Ministry of Information Technology has received many complaints from various sources including several reports about misuse of some mobile apps available on Android and iOS platforms for stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India.” While the government credits security reasons for banning TikTok, this is more directly in response to tensions between the two countries after 20 Indian army troops were killed by Chinese forces in a dispute at their border in the Himalayas.

In response, the TikTok offices have said that its “user data is stored and processed in the U.S. and other markets where TikTok operates at industry-leading third-party data centers. It’s important to clarify that TikTok does not operate in China and that the government of the People’s Republic of China has no access to TikTok users’ data.” A spokesperson from TikTok responded to Secretary Pompeo by stating, “TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the U.S. We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.” 

In Quartz contributor, David Carroll, wrote that TikTok’s privacy policy in late 2018 indicated that user data could be shared “with any member or affiliate of [its] group” in China. TikTok later confirmed to him that “data from TikTok users who joined the service before February 2019 may have been processed in China.” David's findings and the murkiness of TikTok's information policy and loyalty have created a global lack of trust in the app that most of Gen Z use more than Facebook. The growing criticism and uncertainty have increased after Amazon emailed all employees to ensure TikTok was not on companies phones only to back step hours later and say the email blast was a mistake and there was no issue in having the app on company phones.


Alan Rosa is a Policy Correspondent for The National Times.