Diet soda consumption might seem innocent enough since it contains zero calories and sugar, but research has shown it will contribute to waistline expansion and higher blood sugar and pressure levels. The same concept can apply to viewing TikTok content. It may be a benign activity, like traveling through the YouTube rabbit hole or binge-watching all nine seasons of Seinfeld. However, once you begin venturing to the TikTok ether, your physical and mental health gets destroyed like Democrats in Florida. But while inane content could be the biggest threat to future generations, the Chinese-owned digital portal might be a clear and present danger to national security. Is it time to ban the mobile app?
Bipartisan Push to Ban TikTok?
Speaking in an interview with Fox News Sunday on Nov. 20, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) agreed with former President Donald Trump that “TikTok is an enormous threat” on multiple fronts. The senator stated that the first problem is that the social network is “a massive collection of information” that can “visualize even down” to your typing. “So, if you’re a parent and you got a kid on TikTok, I would be very, very concerned. All of that data that your child is inputting and receiving is being stored somewhere in Beijing,” he said.
The second issue, Warner averred, is that TikTok “is a broadcast network” that depends on the Communist Party for content edicts. “The content that your kids may be seeing saying: ‘Hey, you know, Taiwan really is part of China.’ That is a distribution model that would make RT or Sputnik or some of the Russian propaganda models pale in comparison,” Sen. Warner explained.
“I think Donald Trump was right,” he said, adding that the Department of Justice is exploring various avenues to somehow rein in TikTok in the United States.
Warner reiterated this sentiment in an October interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, telling the newspaper that “the ability for China to have undue influence is a much greater challenge and a much more immediate threat than any kind of actual, armed conflict.”
In August 2020, Trump issued an executive order prohibiting the TikTok app from American online stores unless the website abolished its relationship with ByteDance, the Chinese parent company. A federal judge halted the executive order, which was revoked by President Joe Biden last year. But he ordered the Department of Commerce to establish a review of national security threats by apps manufactured in other countries labeled as adversaries.
Many political pundits and satirists can joke about a Democrat espousing on national television that the real estate billionaire mogul was right about something. But the power and influence that TikTok possesses, particularly in relation to the younger generation, may not be as comical. In fact, it might be frightening, considering its reach in the US and across the globe.
TikTok – A Surveillance Tool
In the US, it is estimated that TikTok currently sees approximately 136.5 million users engaging with the social video platform and enjoys roughly 80 million monthly active users (MAUs). Individuals spent an average 1.5 hours per day on the platform as they open the mobile app, which is the second most downloaded application, eight times per day. But the most notable data point is that nearly two-thirds of TikTok users are Generation Zers, although older individuals are quickly signing up for the service.
The content being consumed can be controversial. Transgender activists are encouraging young people to transform their lives permanently. Teachers are showing ways they are disrespecting parents’ wishes. The so-called “fin-fluencers*” are pushing viewers to invest in highly speculative assets with money they do not have. Of course, there is a kernel of decency lurking in the shadows of the social media outlet, as Keelin Ferris explained in an article for Liberty Nation: “Users can promote their brands for free, share life-changing and life-saving information, educate one another on nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and passive income methods, raise awareness for issues such as wildlife rehabilitation, and share uplifting, enjoyable videos.”
Meanwhile, the methods by which TikTok collects this data are questionable, with a growing number of officials and industry observers calling it a massive surveillance tool. While extracting user data is nothing new after nearly 20 years of the social media industry, tech experts have warned that the prevalence of TikTok in the US enables the market to function as a one-stop-shop for the Red Dragon to mine personal information about tens of millions of Americans.
According to a report from the Center for Internet Security (CIS), the app can capture a treasure trove of sensitive information, such as the device brand and model, mobile carrier, browsing history, keystroke patterns and rhythms, geolocations, and file names. TikTok has also been forthright about taking and analyzing users’ personally identifiable information (PII), including age, relationship status, personal contacts, and image. In order to utilize TikTok, users allow the app to access their cameras and microphones, which means the company will gather biometric data, like facial geometry, voice recognition, iris scans, and even fingerprints.
“In aggregate, TikTok’s data collection is more intrusive than other apps,” CIS stated in its report.
This past summer, Robert Potter, the co-CEO of Australian-US cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0 Inc., revealed in a study that his group discovered “excessive data harvesting” that had been performed by TikTok on client devices. The app will then check device locations every hour and employ a code that will find the serial numbers for the phone and SIM card.
Where this abundance of data is stored has also been a source of controversy. TikTok says that user data is stored in the US and Singapore, but its parent company’s services and digital infrastructure are situated in China. Washington presently does not maintain too many federal laws that restrict the collection, use, and sale of personal data, which facilitates a free-for-all environment and allows Beijing to extract and exploit millions of Americans’ information that could then be used for odious purposes, such as blackmail and espionage.
Tick Tock for TikTok?
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI) recently wrote in a well-known Washington newspaper that they will submit legislation to essentially ban TikTok over concerns that the CCP could “subtly indoctrinate American citizens” and “jeopardize” US national security. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Brendan Carr has also insisted on banning TikTok, suggesting that the Treasury Department and its subsidiary Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States could take action against the app.
“TikTok is a major threat to U.S. national security,” the senators opined. “Unless TikTok and its algorithm can be separated from Beijing, the app’s use in the United States will continue to jeopardize our country’s safety and pave the way for a Chinese-influenced tech landscape here.”
It is unclear what President Biden will do on this issue. But the administration has been clear that it will tap TikTok influencers to advance the Biden agenda and generate support from GenZ voters. Is it irresponsible? Many Republicans, including Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), have presented this case. Is the strategy working? Half of GenZ voters did cast a ballot for Democratic candidates in the 2022 midterm elections, effectively turning a red wave into a red ripple. But with the GOP set to obtain more power in Washington in 2023, the bells may toll for the digital platform. Tick tock.
*fin-fluencers – financial-tech influencers.
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