US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the US is “looking at” banning Chinese social media apps, notably including TikTok, over allegations China is using them to collect intelligence on users.
India has already banned the very popular TikTok app over national security and privacy concerns, Australia is also considering a ban.
Asked by Fox News’s Laura Ingraham if the US should consider blocking the apps, especially Tik Tok, Pompeo said the Trump administration was “taking this very seriously; we are certainly looking at it”.
According to Ludovic Rembert at InfoSecurity, there are two big problems with TikTok, but both of them stem from the fact that the platform is now owned by ByteDance.
“Chinese companies are required – by law – to share information with their government, and this is the cause of both concerns. The first is that US lawmakers fear the app could become a major tool for the dissemination of Chinese propaganda. Some sources have claimed that the Islamic State is posting propaganda on the app, and an investigation by The Guardian suggested that TikTok censors videos Beijing doesn’t like, including those about Tibetan independence.
The popularity of the app among teens means that it potentially gives the Chinese government a bigger reach than ever before.
The second problem is that the app can potentially collect information on users in the US. Though many people in the US are more aware of cybersecurity than ever before and have taken steps to limit their susceptibility to this kind of spying, many still don’t understand how VPNs work or simply how much information they are sharing online. Of particular concern is that military and governmental personnel also use the app, and this could provide the Chinese government with a ‘back door’ for more sophisticated surveillance.”
What information is collected?
When installed, TikTok asks users to grant several permissions, including the use of the camera, microphone and contact list. However, it may also collect location data, along with information from other apps on the device.
Last year, a proposed class action lawsuit filed against TikTok in California claimed the company gathered users’ data, including phone numbers, emails, location, IP addresses, and social network contacts. The lawsuit also stated TikTok concealed the transfer of data – including biometric data – and continued to harvest it even after the app was closed. This would mean when a user shoots a video and clicks the “next” button, the video could be automatically transferred to servers without the user’s knowledge.