Censorship of certain videos, lack of transparency on the management of personal data … The Chinese video sharing application TikTok asks questions and we should perhaps be wary of it.
“Make no mistake, it’s not just the companies and your little cousins who are on TikTok, there are states and intelligence services there,” warns the head of cybersecurity at Vygil .ca, Jean-Philippe Décarie-Mathieu.
The Chinese application is renowned for being the social network for Generation Z (born after 1996), where dance challenges or “pranks” between friends circulate. But for many social media experts, TikTok isn’t just a place for teens to share dance or animal videos.
Behind the global success of short, superficial videos, there is a growing political stake. Here are three reasons why you should be wary of the app.
1 Accusations Of Censorship
In November 2019, the Chinese platform temporarily censored the video of an American teenage girl, creating a media stir. In a fake makeup tutorial, Feroza Aziz denounced Beijing’s policy of oppression of the Uyghur minority.
Recently, however, TikTok appeared to take a stand against China. The app has suspended its service in Hong Kong, in protest against the law imposed by Beijing which restricts the freedoms of Hong Kong people.
“It’s a good way to divert the heat in another direction,” analyzes Jean-Philippe Décarie-Mathieu. They take the moral high ground in this. But in fact, any Chinese private company must be accountable to Beijing. ”
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2 Opaque Data Management
The unknown about the links between the Chinese government and ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, worries several observers, in particular because of the lack of transparency on the control of user data.
“The data could go from TikTok to the Chinese authorities, to target, in China or elsewhere in the world, homosexuals, Uyghurs, people who are politically opposed to the policies of the Communist Party”, explains the head of the journalism program to UQAM , Patrick White, who closely follows social media news.
3 Risks Of Interference
TikTok is also becoming a geopolitical issue in the rivalry between the United States and China.
As the US election approaches, many fear that the company could even play an interference role. At the end of June, thousands of Korean K-pop fans, for example, mobilized on TikTok to disrupt a campaign rally for Donald Trump, in Oklahoma. By buying seats in the arena and not coming, they made the hall half empty.
“Technically, it’s still interference, we’ll tell each other, warns Jean-Philippe Décarie-Mathieu. Even if it may be very funny, what happened is still external interference. ”
Even if the company ensures that it does not transmit personal data to the Chinese government, the American government could soon crack down on the application. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke on Monday about the possible ban on Chinese social media companies, including TikTok.
The Canadian government has so far chosen not to take a stand against the application.