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TikTok: Fun for its users, but a security threat for Trump and Lawmakers

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President Trump planning to ban TikTok in the US.

When a 29-year-old Transportation Security Administration officer, Marcy Granger, first installed TikTok early last year, she had zero idea that a Chinese company owned the widespread short-form video app.

It was only when the TSA striped workers from using TikTok for the agency’s social media engagement because of national security concerns, Granger discovered that the video app belonged to a technology company based in Beijing named ByteDance.

With more than 166,000 followers on the app, Granger’s content is mostly lip-syncing to pop music and post inspiring messages about life and motherhood during her free time but without giving away security details about her job.

Granger, who also runs a social media marketing business quoted, “It didn’t really scare me too much because some people don’t realize all social media and all data is tracked.”

TikTok allured the attention of users with its mini videos of people lip syncing, dancing and goofing off to catchy songs. The app belonging to China, its success has fueled inspection from politicians who fear that the Chinese government could use the app to spy on citizens and spread political propaganda.

According to CBS News, on Friday, President Donald Trump stated to the reporters aboard Air Force One that he plans to ban TikTok in the US. Although, some cybersecurity experts say Trump’s focus on TikTok has got to do more with politics than national security concerns. As TikTok is competing in a setting conquered by US social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, Facebook’s photo service app Instagram is planning to launch a TikTok rival called Reels in more countries, including the US, as early as August.

China emerging as a rising science and technology power, the Trump administration realises pushing back against TikTok as part of its plan to compete with China in the future about how data is governed, collected and analysed.

While some of its loyal users hope to remain on the app, fears about privacy and security have already forced some TikTok users to think about whether it’s too risky to stay on the service. In July, gaming star Tyler “Ninja” Blevins tweets that he has deleted TikTok from all of his gadgets.

Although with all the security concerns, it hasn’t stopped the company from attracting more new users. In the US, TikTok saw its growth up by 133% this year compared with the first half of 2019, according to data from analytics firm Sensor Tower. The app surpassed 2 billion downloads in April with over 623.4 million installs in the past six months.

India being the apps biggest market, the country has taken a step further and banned TikTok, citing national security concerns after at least 20 Indian soldiers were killed during a clash with Chinese troops along a disputed border in the Himalayas. After this move, other countries like US and Australia are also considering to bar the app too.

Trump weighs TikTok ban

President Donald Trump confirmed in an interview that the US is considering a TikTok ban to penalise China for its response to the novel coronavirus. “It’s a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world, is disgraceful.” Trump said.

Wayne Lam, an independent technology analyst said, “The tech community will be very hesitant to go along with this app ban. “It sets a precedent for the government to ban other apps or even for other global apps to be inaccessible to the US market.”

TikTok’s security worries

As TikTok is going through inspection, cybersecurity researchers have expressed their susceptibilities within the app. Apprehensions about government officials tracking user data and security, though, aren’t new to Chinese social media apps.

Serge Egelman, who oversees research about security and privacy at University of California said, “They’re fundamental problems in how we consume information and how information is exchanged. What TikTok is doing isn’t particularly new or novel, but it’s pretty much how most apps collect data and monetize themselves.”

Censorship concerns

Yaqiu Wang, who researches China for the Human Rights Watch expresses her concerns about the app going beyond just privacy. There also have been fears that the app has been censoring clips that are serious to the Chinese government, a claim TikTok denies.

Wang also expresses her worries as to what extent can the Chinese government induce TikTok to make certain decisions? She believes that they need more form of evidences although the concerns are justified as of now.

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