Sunday, 29 Jan 2023

TikToks ties to China: why concerns over your data are here to stay

TikToks ties to China: why concerns over your data are here to stay

TikToks ties to China: why concerns over your data are here to stay

In 2021 Android phone users around the world spent 16.2tn minutes on TikTok. And while those millions and millions of users no doubt had an enjoyable time watching clips on the addictive social video app, they also generated a colossal amount of data.

TikTok collects information on how you consume its content, from the device you are using to how long you watch a post for and what categories you like, and uses that information to fine tune the algorithm for the app's main feed.

For anyone with a passing knowledge of how platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Google function - or who has read Shoshana Zuboff's Age of Surveillance Capitalism - this data harvesting is not revelatory. However, when it comes to TikTok, the question that consumes many politicians and sceptics is where that data goes. More specifically: does all that information end up being accessed by the Chinese state?

Owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, TikTok's success - more than 1 billion users worldwide - is combining with well-established fears about social media's data collection practices and concerns over China's geo-political ambitions to generate a background hum of distrust about the app.

"As the geopolitical situation changes I suspect we will see companies such as TikTok will continue to be treated with some caution in the west," says Alan Woodward, a professor of cybersecurity at Surrey University.

The distrust has already been expressed in scrutiny from regulators and politicians around the world, worried about the amount of data TikTok collects and whether Chinese authorities have access to it.

In the US, Donald Trump in August 2020 signed an executive order that blocked people from downloading the app, which was followed by an order for TikTok to sell its US business.

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