The popular social media app Tik Tok, which has taken the younger generation by storm during the pandemic, is in danger of being shut down. The app offers short-form video clips of users completing dance challenges, performing political satire, and other bursts of entertainment. It is owned by Chinese company ByteDance and has been downloaded 165 million times according to cnn.com. Government leaders have questioned the security of the app in recent months and the company has attempted to assuage these fears.
Governments Fear the Worst
Government leaders have questioned the app’s security with some U.S. Senators calling for an intelligence community to assess the risk the app has regarding national security. Many believe this concern to stem from the fact that Tik Tok is a China-owned company, which generally sparks debates over data security. In response, Tik Tok decided to hire an American CEO and denied any rumors that user data was given to the Chinese government.
Like many other social media platforms, Tik Tok collects users’ geolocation, IP address, and in-app messages. The app also operates as an independent subsidiary and does not operate within China. This led lawmakers to be concerned that the parent company, ByteDance, would be forced to hand over user data to China.
At one point during the app’s life, there was a vulnerability found that would allow a hacker to access accounts, change privacy settings, steal user email addresses, and upload content. This flaw was patched soon after and no data was stolen. Overall, leaders are afraid that users will abuse the platform by sending out false information regarding COVID-19 and other serious topics affecting the nation today.
How Secure Is the App?
One of the arguments that Tik Tok makes for itself is that it stores American user data on US-based servers that are not subject to Chinese Law. While this was a point in their favor, a recent issue regarding the company accessing user’s clipboards. This feature was lessened to a spam filter to flag content that was used on multiple accounts, but even this feature has been removed.
The app itself collects data that could be used to determine the habits, demographics, and location of users. This, overall, would not be of much use to a foreign country looking for larger targets and data leaks that could be used for attacks on a much more serious scale. The information collected in the app is no more invasive than the information collected from Facebook and Twitter, both of which had their own breaches not long ago.
Of course, others say that depending on the content that is sent out using the app, there could be cause for concern regarding security. If another country were to intercept that information, or rather the device on which the app runs, it could result in a massive device takeover and an increasingly serious data breach.
Has the Clock Run Out for Tik Tok?
In an attempt to possibly bolster the security reputation of Tik Tok and improve the security overall, Microsoft has begun the discussion of potentially acquiring a portion of the app. They promised that if they became involved in the ownership of the app, that they would improve security and privacy for users. This would include the private data of U.S. users being transferred to the United States and ensuring the information was deleted from other locations.
The US military has already banned the app from government-issued devices and the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investment has decided that Tik Tok must be divested, though no public announcement has been made as of yet.
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