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Should I be worried about the security concerns surrounding TikTok?

TLDR: TikTok has faced a growing number of concerns surrounding privacy, with Australia’s Labor party asking the company to explain how it approaches our privacy laws, and some advocates even calling for the platform to be banned.

 

To say TikTok’s growth is exponential would be an understatement. It jumped from the 5th most downloaded app in 2019, to the number 1 downloaded app in 2020. 

TikTok sees 800 million active users per month and in the last year more than 1 billion videos have been viewed every single day on the app.

 

Especially among Gen Z TikTok is a verified cultural phenomenon. 

However, despite its fun, whimsical nature there are some very dark concerns surrounding platform security, especially when it comes to our private data.

 

A brief history of TikTok

TikTok wasn’t always TikTok. The platform is owned by company ByteDance, which can largely be thought of as the Chinese equivalent of Facebook.

ByteDance owns several social platforms which are widely popular in China, though most have not seen the same global success as TikTok.

The popular video-sharing platform began as an app known as ‘Doyin’. It’s popularity skyrocketed in China reaching 100 million users in its first year alone.

It didn’t become known as TikTok until it began its international expansion the following year.

Meanwhile, popular US video app Music.ly was taking off. It’s focus however was a little more niche, specifically offering lip-sync videos.

In 2017, ByteDance purchased Music.ly. The platforms were initially kept separate, but as of August 2018 they were merged under TikTok. All Music.ly platforms were automatically converted into TikTok accounts.

We know the rest. The platform has grown from strength to strength, now boasting a massive 1.5billion global users.

 

So where do the concerns come in?

As you may or may not know, India banned TikTok earlier this year stating concerns over a “threat to sovereignty and integrity”. This has raised questions over whether the same ban will be applied here in Australia.

TikTok has access to user’s names, locations, birth dates and even facial recognition data.

 

Stating the obvious – most social media apps have access to this information. Facebook and Instagram certainly do, and we’re all familiar with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. 

With that being said, a Facebook or Instagram ban hasn’t ever really been on the cards here, so why TikTok?

 

The problem comes into the apps ties to China. While you could certainly make an argument all major tech companies need some serious regulation around their data collection policies, it’s China’s National Intelligence Law that raises concerns.

 

The law states companies are required to assist the government by providing access, cooperation and support for intelligence-gathering activities

 

Under this law, the Chinese government technically could request access to all user information and data on TikTok’s app. These same conditions are not applied to Facebook or many other nation’s tech companies which have strict user privacy policies, extending to privacy from the government.

 

Is an Australian ban likely?

Despite concerns, probably not. 

The app is banned on devices operated and owned by Australian Defence, but personal use seems unlikely to be prohibited.

Leading tech experts have remarked this is unlikely because banning the app will only serve to increase tensions among Canberra and Beijing.

 

So should you be concerned?

At this time it really is hard to say. The reality is data can be extremely hard to control and regulate.

Every single thing we do on the internet could arguably raise concerns over privacy.

 

That’s not to say be paranoid, but do be smart. That extends beyond TikTok. There are some obvious things you don’t just share willy-nilly on the internet (eg. your bank details) but do your due diligence. Check websites have a security certificate, read reviews from sites like Trust.Pilot. 

Whether you choose to use TikTok or not is a personal preference but like anything it’s important to inform yourself and know the facts.

 

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