Critics of TikTok have warned that the app could be used as a spying tool for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and that user’s content could be censored by Beijing should the Party deem them politically sensitive. (Related: Communist Chinese tech giant TikTok suspends girl’s account for talking about detention camps, just like Facebook and Twitter are doing to users trying to expose deep state child trafficking.)
Before this, the app had come under scrutiny following the Trump administration’s announcement that it was mulling banning Tiktok – and other Chinese apps – from operating in the U.S. based on security grounds.
Tiktok, however, has denied these claims and has sought to distance itself from its Chinese owner, the Beijing-based Bytedance Technology Co., pointing to its American board members and new CEO. It has also pointed out that its servers are based in the U.S. and Singapore.
Use of TikTok has surged over the past few months as young Americans were left with nothing to do in the middle of lockdown orders prompted by the ongoing Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. This increase, however, has led to an increasing number of experts pointing out the apps’ suspicious behavior when it comes to harvesting its users’ data.
In February, even before the coronavirus lockdowns started, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman called the app out, stating that it was “fundamentally parasitic.”
“Maybe I’m going to regret this, but I can’t even get to that level of thinking with them,” Huffman said to TechCrunch. “Because I look at that app as so fundamentally parasitic, that it’s always listening, the fingerprinting technology they use is truly terrifying, and I could not bring myself to install an app like that on my phone.”
“Don’t install that spyware on your phone,” he added.
More recently, Apple discovered that the app was actively spying on users. The company recently looked at a security loophole in iOS that allowed apps to access the clipboard on users’ devices secretly. In the process, security researchers Talal Haj Bakry and Tommy Mysk found that one of the apps caught using this loophole – which is set to be plugged in this fall’s iOS 14 update – was TikTok.
The increase in the use of TikTok despite the warnings has put some experts ill-at-ease.
Cybersecurity expert Gary Miliefsky, who in 2014 discovered that many of the top mobile flashlight apps in Google’s Play store were linked to China, worries that the app may be a scaled-up version of those spyware apps.
“If you want to spy on a country, why send in a spy the old-fashioned way?” he said to The Epoch Times. “Why not just send in a great app and make it go viral?”
What makes TikTok’s spying so alarming is its links to China. The latter’s security laws compel companies to cooperate with Chinese intelligence agencies when asked.
For its part, TikTok has claimed that it would not share user data with Beijing if the latter requested. However, according to security expert Casey Fleming, TikTok’s claim that it could refuse to comply with Chinese law is simply “propaganda and gaslighting.”
According to Fleming, CEO of intelligence and security strategy firm BlackOps Partners, every company operating in China, even U.S. companies, are required to abide by China’s intelligence and security laws.
Fleming also pointed out how much control the CCP has over every aspect of society in China, including the technology coming out of it, all as part of a program of “unrestricted warfare” to supplant the U.S. as the world’s only superpower.
“All technology coming out of China – either manufactured in China, created in China – is controlled by the CCP,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mark Grabowski, an associate professor specializing in cyber law and digital ethics at Adelphi University in New York, has described TikTok as “Chinese government malware masquerading as a social media app.”
Some of this data, he pointed out, were irrelevant to what TikTok does. For example, the app doesn’t add geolocation data to its videos, but it still collects users’ location data.
“The app collects way more data than it needs to.”
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