TikTok: China’s spy app?



TikTok is a video-sharing social networking service owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based company founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming. It is used to create short lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos. The app was launched in 2017 for iOS and Android for markets outside of China. ByteDance had previously launched Douyin (Chinese抖音) for the China market in September 2016. TikTok and Douyin are similar, but run on separate servers to comply with Chinese censorship restrictions. The application allows users to create short music and lip-sync videos of 3 to 15 seconds[6][7] and short looping videos of 3 to 60 seconds. It is popular in Asia, the United States, and other parts of the world.[8] TikTok is not available in China, and its servers are based in countries where the app is available.[9]



Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT) July 9, 2020

(CNN Business)The short-form video app TikTok could soon see a shakeup of its corporate structure as it confronts mounting criticism from politicians in the US over ties to its Chinese parent company.

TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is considering establishing a headquarters for the video app outside of China or a new management board to distance the service from the country, according to the Wall Street Journal, citing a source familiar with the matter.

A TikTok spokesperson confirmed Thursday that its parent company is weighing changes to its corporate structure.
“As we consider the best path forward, ByteDance is evaluating changes to the corporate structure of its TikTok business,” the spokesperson said in a statement provided to CNN Business. “We remain fully committed to protecting our users’ privacy and security as we build a platform that inspires creativity and brings joy for hundreds of millions of people around the world. We will move forward in the best interest of our users, employees, artists, creators, partners, and policymakers.”

TikTok has previously said it stores US user data on US-based servers that are not subject to Chinese law. It also recently hired an executive from Disney to become its CEO, a move that could burnish its US credentials.
Skeptics say ByteDance, which is based in China, is nevertheless beholden to the Chinese government, but the case for TikTok as a threat to US security is not clear-cut.

Like some other social media apps and technology companies, TikTok automatically gathers users’ geolocation information, IP addresses, unique device identifiers and the content of in-app messages, according to its privacy policy. That is a lot of data, but far more sensitive information — and potentially more damaging to national security — was exposed by data breaches affecting the Office of Personnel Management, announced in 2015, and Equifax, disclosed in 2017, according to James Lewis, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.



US Army bans soldiers from using TikTok over security worries

(CNN)The US Army has banned the use of the hugely popular short video app TikTok by its soldiers, calling it a security threat.

The Army has joined the Navy in barring the use of the app on government-owned phones, following bipartisan calls from lawmakers for regulators and the intelligence community to determine whether the Chinese-owned app presents a threat to national security and could be used to collect American citizens’ personal data. Military.com was the first to report on the decision.
“There was a Cyber Awareness Message sent out on 16 December identifies TikTok as having potential security risks associated with its use,” Army spokesperson Lt. Col Robin L. Ochoa told CNN on Monday night.
“The message directs appropriate action for employees to take in order to safeguard their personal information. The guidance is to be wary of applications you download, monitor your phones for unusual and unsolicited texts etc., and delete them immediately and uninstall TikTok to circumvent any exposure of personal information.”
Reuters reported that the Navy also made a similar decision in mid-December, telling sailors that anyone who hadn’t removed the app from their government-issued phone would be banned from the Navy intranet.
TikTok is not the only Chinese tech giant to raise US suspicions — wireless company Huawei has earned the criticism of the Trump administration, which has campaigned worldwide against the use of Huawei equipment, citing the company’s ties to Beijing. But Huawei isn’t the viral phenomenon that TikTok has become, capturing millions of teens and adults with its ability to create and share short videos set to catchy music.
The two-year-old app has been downloaded over 750 million times in the past year, according to The New York Times, citing figures from the app analytics firm Sensor Tower. That’s tens of millions more downloads than for Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat over the same period. And it reflects a 33% jump in downloads of TikTok compared to the year prior, Sensor Tower told CNN in November.



MIT Technology Review

Tech Policy

The US government has launched a national security review of the Chinese-owned video platform TikTok, according to Reuters. Authorities think the viral meme app that brought the summer smash “Old Town Road” could also bring down the US.

What’s TikTok? TikTok is a social network where users create and remix short videos set to music. Previously called Musical.ly, it was purchased by Chinese company ByteDance in 2017. As the first foreign app to grow popular in the US, it has been a major driver of popular culture, turning obscure musicians into chart-topping stars and teens into mini-celebrities.

So what’s the problem? There have been reports of the Islamic State posting propaganda on the app. An investigation by The Guardian suggested that TikTok censors videos Beijing doesn’t like, including ones about Tibetan independence. Some experts fear that TikTok will share the data of American teens with the Chinese Communist Party or become a hose of foreign-controlled disinformation. Three US senators—Marco Rubio, Chuck Schumer, and Tom Cotton—have called for an investigation. Now the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS) is looking into whether it was okay for ByteDance to buy Musical.ly two years ago.

Next steps? There are a range of options, starting with auditing the company’s data practices. ByteDance might also be forced to sell its US business to a non-Chinese company, the way Grindr’s parent company was asked to sell the app because it had too much sensitive data. One big difference is that Grindr is a much smaller business than TikTok, so it might be hard to find a buyer, according to Claudia Biancotti, a visiting fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

The nuclear option would be to ban the app—either for certain people, such as military personnel, or in a total prohibition like the type that India enacted for two weeks in April after the country’s government became concerned it was exposing children to sexual content. A ban could create massive backlash, so it’s rather unlikely.

How is TikTok responding? TikTok recently hired lawmakers to help it develop content moderation guidelines, presumably ones that won’t be accused of censorship. It also insists that no data about American citizens is stored in the US, with Singapore (and not China) as a backup. The company is already in talks with CFIUS, according to Reuters.




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