The mobile application, TikTok launched in the United States in late 2017 when the Chinese company, ByteDance, merged it with Musical.ly. It has since amassed over 800 million active users worldwide with 165 million in the United States.
More recently, there has been a growing concern over security issues the app presents, and a potential ban of the app. Companies like Microsoft and Twitter have announced their intention to purchase, so that American users can still have access to the app.
What are the security concerns?
Primarily, the security concerns are related to privacy issues based on where user data is stored. Since ByteDance is a Beijing based technology company, the chief concern is that ByteDance will share TikTok user data with the Chinese government, as required by law.
With over 1 million videos shared per day, 2 billion downloads and over 800 million monthly active users, TikTok generates a massive amount of data on any given day. Additionally, when installed, TikTok asks users to grant several permissions, including the use of the camera, microphone, and contact list. It may also collect location data, along with information from other apps on the device.
The information is then stored on servers in the United States and Singapore. TikTok asserted that their data centers are located outside of China, and therefore the data is not subject to Chinese law. However, ByteDance is still a Chinese company, so the United States’ concern is that all the data is still required by law to be shared with the Chinese government.
From a user perspective, TikTok has access to a device’s location, a user’s personal information, and information on other apps on the device, including other social media platforms. Although the servers are located outside China, it is very difficult to confirm where the data might end up or what it could be used for.
The United States is not alone in being the only country to potentially enforce a ban on the app. Australia, Japan, and Turkey have launched similar investigations into the platform, and India banned the app earlier this summer.
What is the solution?
Several American companies have expressed interest to explore the purchase of TikTok including Microsoft and Twitter. The purchase of the app by an American company would allow users to continue to create and use the video platform because these companies have promised to store American user data inside of the United States, ensure enhanced security measures, and offer greater transparency in the use of the data.