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TikTok Security Risk – True or False?

Brendan Carr, commissioner of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), has called out the popular Chinese-based social media giant for what he describes as an “unacceptable security risk“. In a letter to Google and Apple CEOs, Mr. Carr has requested that the app be removed from their respective app stores because “TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data“.

It is clear that TikTok’s pattern of conduct and misrepresentations regarding the unfettered access that persons in Beijing have sensitive US user data puts it out of compliance with the policies that both of your companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on your app stores.

Therefore, I am requesting that you apply the plain text of your app store policies to TikTok and remove it from your app stores for failure to abide by those terms ~ <source>

Brendan Carr goes on to claim that TikTokharvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data” such as search and browsing histories, keystroke patterns, biometric identifiers – including faceprints and voiceprints – location data, draft messages, metadata, and data stored on the clipboard, including text, images, and videos. He then cites a number of incidents as evidence of TikTok’s dubious data practices.

TikTok Responds

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TikTok executive, Michael Beckerman (head of public policy, Americas), in a rare interview on CNN’s “Reliable Sources“, claimed there are no security concerns linked to the hugely successful app. “He [Brendan Carr] is pointing out a number of areas that are simply false in terms of information that we’re collecting, and we’re happy to set the record straight,” Beckerman said.

When questioned about the false claims, Beckerman responded: “He’s mentioning we’re collecting browser history, like we’re tracking you across the internet. That’s simply false. It is something that a number of social media apps do, where they’re checking your browser history across other apps. That is not something that TikTok does.”

He’s talking about faceprints, that is not something we collect,” he said, explaining that the technology in their app does not identify individuals but is merely for the purpose of applying filters, such as knowing where to place funny glasses or a hat on a face or head.

Regarding keystroke patterns, Beckerman said, “It’s not logging what you’re typing. It’s an anti-spam/anti-fraud measure that checks the rhythm of the way people are typing to ensure it’s not a bot or some other malicious activity.”

When asked if any CCP member has ever seen any non-public user data, he said, “We have never shared information with the Chinese government nor would we. We have US-based security teams that manage access, manage the app, and, as actual national security agencies like the CIA during the Trump administration pointed out, the data that’s available on TikTok – because it’s an entertainment app – is not of national security importance ~ <source>

BOTTOM LINE

The responses from Michael Beckerman remind me of the old political adage that a survey can elicit whatever response the author requires simply by manipulating the questions. In other words, data collection can be explained away with seemingly innocuous reasoning that, on the surface, sounds quite reasonable but the truth may be a different matter entirely. I guess we wait and see.

One thing I will say is that, in my opinion, unfettered use of social media, in general, represents the greatest threat to an individual’s privacy.

What do you think? Share your thoughts via the comments.

4 thoughts on “TikTok Security Risk – True or False?”

  1. Find it extremely difficult to pick a side. There are programs that can assist block data harvesting. Just because something if from another country does not mean it is harmful. Where do you think we get the bulk of our electronic products? Without physical facts, listening to both sides, it might be better to avoid social media and revert more to physical contact among humans, Mindblower!

    1. I agree with you to a certain extent MB. However, notice that at no time did Michael Beckerman refute any of the claims, he merely came up with alternative explanations- very much in the same way as a politician might do.

  2. FB, twitter, tik-tok and others consider the customer as the product. Anyone who uses these services trades their personal info and privacy for use of the service. Caveat Emptor!
    I don’t see how those services are a threat to “National Security” unless the FCC thinks the CCP doesn’t already know how vapid the American public is. Based on the crap we buy from them, they already know.
    I’ve never found any reason to use those services and live quite happily without them.

  3. I don’t know about data collection from tiktok but maybe these people should look closer to home.

    I recently bought a Xiaomi phone. There’s worried that these send a lot of personal data back to China, but is this any different to the data the likes of Facebook and Google etc. take?

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