Tick Tock, TikTok

Last week I saw a TV commercial about a guy who uses TikTok to teach kids to read. I didn’t really pay much attention to it because I am convinced that TikTok is a Chinese intelligence operation and that people shouldn’t be using a web app that tracks every keystroke they make across the Internet.

Then last night I saw a second “No, TikTok Is Actually Good” ad about a woman who makes soap and I got curious about what’s going on and found this:

If you believe the rhetoric coming out of Washington, TikTok is a security risk and a dangerous source of Chinese disinformation campaigns. To counter those claims, the app is painting itself as a benevolent force. It has launched a documentary web series called TikTok Sparks Good, which reveals its positive impact through 60-second vignettes.

Each episode of TikTok Sparks Good is based around a specific creator. The first two installments center on small business owners who have used TikTok to advance their careers. Jessie Whittington of Country Lather has used the app to launch an affordable soap line in her rural community, while Spencer Russell of Toddlers Can Read has expanded his childhood literacy initiative thanks to the visibility he receives on TikTok.

As part of their TikTok Sparks Good appearances, the featured creators take a few moments to characterize the app as a lifeline for small business owners. “Because of TikTok, I am able to support myself, my family, my team, and my business in a way I just couldn’t have done on my own,” Russell says in his video.

TikTok users in the US have committed some great acts of guerilla political warfare, most notably reserving a huge chunk of free tickets for a TFG rally in Tulsa in 2020 and then not showing up. But in addition to the keystroke mining giving the company access to credit card and bank information, and passwords, its parent company has inappropriately used TikTok user data for sinister purposes:

Employees with the Chinese parent company of video-sharing platform TikTok inappropriately gained access to the user data of American citizens, according to internal emails reviewed by The New York Times.

ByteDance explained in the emails that an internal investigation found the employees gained access to the data of two U.S. journalists and people associated with them over the summer.

The employees, who were part of a monitoring program at the company, were probing the journalists, one now at Forbes and the other at the Financial Times, to find the sources of suspected leaks, according to The New York Times.

Forbes reported on Thursday that two additional journalists with the company were tracked by ByteDance employees.

All three Forbes journalists were formerly at BuzzFeed News, which reported in June that ByteDance has repeatedly accessed the user data of American citizens.

While the effort to find the source of the leaks failed, the employees gained access to data from at least two reporters and a few other users connected to them through their TikTok accounts.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a hearing on Thursday with TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew. The government is worried about the Chinese government using data from TikTok, although it doesn’t have evidence to back this up (or won’t release it, I guess), and is insisting that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance sell its stake to an American company.

The government banning social media apps, even those with are proven to be a danger to national or individual security, raises the larger question of government censorship. Absent the presentation of hard evidence it seems wrong to ban a venue for free speech, especially as it’d be a precedent that would be quickly abused. That doesn’t mean that the broad US government coalition will leave TikTok alone, though. Stay tuned.

Culture Club has got it from here:

2 thoughts on “Tick Tock, TikTok

  1. I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t much matter whether TikTok is a Chinese intelligence operation. TikTok has no more access to your data than any other app on your phone. Much of the data those other apps collect is sold to third-party data brokers, and is available to anyone willing to pay the price. In a world without TikTok, Chinese intelligence could (and probably does) simply buy the same type of data.

    The real scandal is that Google and Apple will happily sacrifice TikTok (or any other app) to preserve their own completely unrestricted access to your data. I also assume that, to avoid losing access to various markets, they routinely provide certain kinds of data on request of various friendly and not so friendly intelligence agencies.

    Any internet-connected device, be it a computer, phone, car, drone, refrigerator, microwave, or whatever, should be seen as an intelligence gathering tool.

  2. 60 second viginets are much too long. Way past most attention snaps

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