Opinion: Why is TikTok being scrutinised in the US?


TikTok has been a source of concern in the United States for some time. Initially, the United States was concerned that increased use of TikTok was causing health problems and affecting young minds. This time, the US Senate Intelligence Committee has requested an investigation into the privacy concerns of US-based users of this app, which the government believes is also related to national security. As a result, the Intelligence Department has written a letter to FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan, asking her to investigate TikTok's privacy policies.

TikTok is constantly defending itself against the charges levelled by the US government. In its defence, it claims that all user data is only shared with its parent company, ByteDance. Only recently, in mid-June, when TikTok was questioned about its insecure privacy policies, did its spokesperson provide various explanations to satisfy US Senators. Because of the numerous accusations, US data is now only stored on US-based servers operated by the US company Oracle. TikTok also confirms that if its employees access the data, they do so only within strict cybersecurity controls and authorization approval protocols overseen by the company's security team in the United States.

The History of TikTok

Zhang Yiming, a bookish Chinese entrepreneur and the owner of the short-form video hosting service TikTok, also known as Douyin in China, founded the Chinese corporation ByteDance. It provides a selection of user-generated short-form videos in the categories of pranks, tricks, jokes, dancing, and entertainment. ranging in length from 15 seconds to 10 minutes. Douyin first appeared in the Chinese market in September 2016, while TikTok is the app's global counterpart. TikTok for iOS and Android was released in most areas outside of mainland China in 2017. The app, however, did not go global until August 2, 2018, when it merged with Musical.ly, another Chinese social media site. Morning Consult named TikTok the third fastest-growing brand for 2020, following Zoom and Peacock. Cloudflare named TikTok the most popular website of 2021, surpassing Google.

What are TikTok's new privacy policies?

TikTok recently updated its privacy policy to collect biometric identifiers and biometric information known as face prints and voiceprints in the United States, and it added a new section to its privacy policy called "Image and Audio Information." With this change, the company can now collect these new types of biometric data automatically. The data will be used for non-personally identifying operations such as enabling special video effects, content moderation, demographic classification, and ad recommendations, according to the updated privacy policy.

Although TikTok's privacy policy expressly states that they do not sell personal information to third parties, they do leave the door open by stating that they can share business information, including face prints and voiceprints, for business purposes. Many people may consider it unjustified to collect such information for an app that does not require this type of data to function.

What are the views of other countries on this issue?

Many countries have already discovered some flaws in this application and have taken precautionary measures. The main concern for countries is that the information shared on the platform is tainted and that the Chinese government has access to it. Countries are concerned that the Chinese government will eventually force the company to come under its surveillance and use the users' data illegally.

Taking these concerns into account, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan have already banned the use of this social media platform in their respective countries.

In terms of the United States, during Donald Trump's presidency, he was concerned about the security of the platform's data and attempted to force ByteDance to sell its subsidiary to Oracle. He also issued executive orders outright prohibiting the service in the United States, but those never took effect and were later revoked by his successor, Joe Biden. Nonetheless, President Biden has charged his administration with assessing the potential risks associated with foreign ownership of social media websites and apps.

In recent news, Italy's data protection authority formally warned Chinese-owned short video-sharing app TikTok about an alleged breach of existing EU privacy rules. TikTok had recently informed users that it would be delivering targeted advertising to them, but had not sought permission to use data stored on their devices. The Italian authorities expressed concern that inappropriate advertising could be directed at minors, citing TikTok's difficulties in accurately monitoring the ages of its users.

Why did the United States become suspicious of TikTok?

TikTok is dominating the West in a unique way. Previously, its largest market was India, which banned the app in 2020 due to national security concerns. Since Donald Trump's presidency, the US government has been wary of this app. The US government believes there is a possibility that TikTok stores the data of US-based users and gives it to the voracious Chinese government, so users of this app do not have the security of their personal information.

What is the government doing about it?

The Intelligence Department sent a letter to FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan, asking her to investigate TikTok's privacy policies. Six Republican senators recently grilled Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about a Biden administration study of TikTok's national security. Due to concerns that US user data could be given to China's communist government's Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which evaluates deals by foreign acquirers for potential national security risks, Chinese parent company Bytedance was ordered to divest TikTok in 2020. In response to American concerns about data integrity, TikTok announced last week that it had completed the migration of user data for its American users to Oracle Corp (ORCL.N) servers.


The only thing that can be done is for TikTok to tighten its privacy policies and assure its users and the relevant government that Tiktok, like other social media pages, does not share any private information without its users' knowledge. Meanwhile, governments should either trust the company's owners or consult with their IT experts to find a way out of this mess. Complaining about an app's efficacy simply because it is of Chinese origin is unethical, but it is also the company's responsibility to reassure and dispel any doubts that may arise in the minds of its potential users. TikTok has now become such a popular application in the market that any minor error made by the company is thoroughly investigated. Furthermore, the users are the true victims of this. Because TikTok has provided many with a platform to showcase their talents and be liked and appreciated by others, any decisions made by the company or the governments of respective countries should be made with the general public in mind.

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