Friday, April 19, 2024

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What’s The Deal with TikTok?

The FCC has once again called for TikTok to be de-listed from the Google Play Store and the Apple App store. What is going on with TikTok? It’s just an app for filming and sharing silly videos, right? There are essentially two potential problems with TikTok, and both of them trace back to the app’s parent company residing in China.

Here in the US we have National Security Letters, and China seems to have a more straightforward system, where “everything is seen in China,” as said by a member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety Department. TikTok uses quite a few permissions, some of which seem a bit overzealous. If you’re a person of interest to the Chinese government, could those permissions be used to surveil you? Absolutely. Just like a US based app could, as a result of a National Security Letter.

The second problem is a bit more subtle, and may stray towards a conspiracy theory, but is worth considering. TikTok has videos about every subject imaginable, from every possible viewpoint. What if the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wanted a specific rumor to gain traction in the US? Just a little pressure on the video recommendation algorithm would make videos about that topic trend. Instant public opinion lever.

There’s likely a missing piece of the story here, in the form of some classified intel. Until enough time goes by that a Freedom of Information Act request can unlock the rest of the story, it’s going to be unclear how much of the TikTok threat is legitimate, and how much is geo-political wrangling.

Oh, and if you thought you could just go open up the Google Play Store and see the exact permissions the TikTok app uses, Google has made the unfortunate decision to hide permissions until you actually do the install. That sounds like a terrible decision and, after a brief outcry, it seems like Google agrees. Just before this article went to the presses, Google announced that they were walking back this decision.

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