In an age of isolation, video sharing platform TikTok has emerged as a bonding force for many. But recent headlines allege the service, owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance, is feeding users’ data to the Chinese Communist Party.
President Trump’s new executive orders banning Chinese social media apps TikTok and WeChat marked a significant escalation in the ongoing technology tensions between the U.S. and China, according to analysts.
On Aug. 6, 2020, Trump declared that TikTok and WeChat posed a threat to national security and invoked the International Emergency Economic Power Act. He prohibited Americans from carrying out any transactions with the parent companies of TikTok and WeChat beyond 45 days — meaning U.S. companies and individuals will not be able to advertise with the platforms, offer them for download via app stores, or enter into licensing agreements with them.
VOA spoke with government officials, think tank experts and app users for perspective on the immediate and long-term implications of the decision to ban the two major Chinese apps.
The order bans with ByteDance, the app’s Chinese owner, a move that could potentially affect Google’s Play Store and Apple’s App Store, which distribute the popular software in the US. A similar order targets WeChat, a messaging app owned by Chinese giant Tencent.
Trump issued the orders under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a law that allows the president to regulate international commerce after declaring a national emergency in response to any unusual or extraordinary threat to the US.
A growing following
With a reported two billion downloads worldwide, TikTok’s Australian market is also significant. It has an estimated 1.6 million Aussie users, mostly aged 16-24 but with a growing number of older users too.
Simply, users generate short videos that are shared in the app, with many celebrities also signing up. But although TikTok seems to offer carefree entertainment, is there a darker side?
What information is collected?
When installed, TikTok asks users to grant several permissions, including the use of the camera, microphone and contact list. However, it may also collect location data, along with information from other apps on the device.
Last year, a proposed class action lawsuit filed against TikTok in California claimed the company gathered users’ data, including phone numbers, emails, location, IP addresses, and social network contacts.
The lawsuit also stated TikTok concealed the transfer of data (including biometric data), and continued to harvest it even after the app was closed. This would mean when a user shoots a video and clicks the “next” button, the video could be automatically transferred to servers – without the user’s knowledge.