Is TikTok Really All That Dangerous?

Tech Talk show notes for Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Listen live Tuesday mornings on WTCA FM 106.1 and AM 1050 in Plymouth, Indiana.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you told me you that you haven’t heard of the TikTok app… at least until recently. TikTok has made plenty of news lately as the United States government has put the social media app in its cross hairs.

TikTok is owned by a company called ByteDance, which is based in China. Over the last year or so, TikTok has taken the social media landscape by storm. It’s extremely popular with young people and the app has been downloaded more than 2 billion times. There’s always been some controversy swirling around TikTok because of its younger user base and the fact that the parent company is based in China.

Citing national security, some governments have begun to block the app and the United States is also talking about banning the app. India has gone so far as to call TikTok a “malicious app” and the U.S. military has also banned the app on government-issued phones. While many government agencies constantly cite “national security” I have yet to see any intelligence that China is actively mining or monitoring anything that TikTok users are doing. So what’s the big deal?

China has been caught before

So what is important to remember is that China has been caught before loading malicious software into apps and devices. Just yesterday, in fact, an article was published on ArsTechnica stating that China’s Golden Tax Invoicing software was infected with malware. All companies that do business in China are required to use the software to file their value-added taxes. So, yes, China is actively trying to gain access to systems and information that they really have no business getting into.

It’s no secret that China is actively spying. I can’t even tell you how many times we’ve had to block China-based IP addresses from trying to access our systems. It’s definitely a problem. And that’s a shame, because now everything that comes out of China is suspect. TikTok being the latest victim.

Don’t we already share too much?

As I’ve said before, if you use something for free, you are more than likely the product. Apps of all types, Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc. all collect your personal information in order to sell advertising. That’s no secret. TikTok does the same thing. They assert that all of the personal information from users is stored on U.S.-based servers with a backup in Singapore.

Our own government is actively collecting data on us. Meta data from our phones and God knows what else is being collected by various government agencies, including the NSA. Our own government is probably doing the same exact thing that China is doing – collecting information for the “good of the people” under the guise of “national security” or some obscure directive in the Patriot Act. So who’s the bad guy here? Is our own government just upset that a foreign actor is doing the same thing? Or is it something else?

It’s something else…

While government officials may say they are doing it to protect the sovereignty of the nation, it is more than likely a form a retaliation. President Trump has publicly stated that he wants to hit back at China for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic. But more than likely, it’s because a number of TikTok users took credit for “pranking” Trump’s Tulsa Rally in Oklahoma back in June. The 19,000-seat arena was partially empty, as was an overflow event. The Trump campaign cited other reasons for the low attendance, but it doesn’t take a genius to recognize that our president was upset by this TikTok prank and has now directed his ire towards the app.

TikTok users aren’t taking a potential ban lying down. As one Time article has put it, TikTok-ers are “going to war” against the Trump campaign. Some TikTok creators are leveraging their huge fanbases to rally their own troops in an attempt to save the app.

So is TikTok dangerous?

Personally, I don’t believe that TikTok is dangerous and I don’t really see the concern. We’re already pushing out tons of personal information when we log in to Facebook, surf the web or fill out those stupid online surveys. If you don’t want your personal information in the hands of the Chinese government, then don’t use the app. But honestly, what type of information is China gleaning from me watching dance videos? What really bothers me is how our own government had responded. It really feels like an overreach of the government to ban TikTok. I feel that our government should be focused on more real problems like stopping all of those robocalls.