By Brian Hinchion, Staff Reporter
With seemingly endless presidential scandals, threats of world wars, and general unrest and turmoil whenever you turn on the news, it’s no wonder many young people in America are using social media to escape this daunting reality. The app that has really skyrocketed in popularity in the last year is TikTok.
TikTok is similar in nature to other apps like Vine where users share silly memes, trends and lip-sync performances in short video form. However, the difference between TikTok and other social media apps popular in America today like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat is that TikTok’s parent company is based in China, whereas the other apps are based in the United States. The fact that TikTok is owned and operated out of China has caused users to be wary and skeptical of whose hands their data may fall into especially considering how valuable people’s privacy is.
TikTok’s origins date back to 2014 when it started as a lip-syncing app called Musical.ly. Musical.ly quickly became very popular and in 2017 it was acquired by Chinese company ByteDance. According to a November 2019 article in the New York Times, U.S. lawmakers are critical of this takeover and have requested a national security review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
The most concerning information to come out of the article was that of an anonymous person familiar with the review saying the American government had proof users’ data and information were being sent back to China. Whether that information turns out to be true or not there are plenty of reasons users should be concerned about how and where their data is being stored with TikTok and its presence and relationship to the Chinese government.
The Chinese government has entangled itself with the companies owned and operated within China. The Times article mentioned a 2017 national security law implemented in China that requires companies in China to hand over information to the government at their request. This underlines the key differences between American owned and operated tech companies and those in China.
While the business practices of Facebook or Snapchat may leave some users feeling their privacy and data could be compromised, exposed or stored without their consent, the U.S. government can not order user’s data or information from those apps be handed over. In China, the government can.
TikTok is not the only company being looked at skeptically in regards to user’s privacy and information. An article from Forbes in early 2019 looked at Chinese company Huawei, a tech company founded by a former Chinese army officer in 1987. The article said governments around the world such as Australia and the U.K were looking to block or replace technological infrastructure from Huawei in their countries as well as block any incoming Huawei products.
Robert Strayer, a top cyber official for the U.S. State Department spoke to the Washington Post recently and said it would be foolish to think China a country that uses data to surveil their own citizens would not do the same with other Huawei infrastructure and devices around the world.
Though oftentimes much of the mainstream media and governments around the world tend to paint China as some sort of boogeyman, it’s hard not to be wary when a Wuhan doctor recently died after he attempted to speak out of the severity of the coronavirus.
It’s important to not take the media and world government’s word completely in regard to these technological concerns with China because China can be an easy boogeyman for many news outlets and countries. But a country that as recently as last week tried to silence a doctor in Wuhan who attempted to speak out and warn of the severity of the coronavirus outbreak, loses the benefit of the doubt with each continuing act of suppression.
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