TikTok’s days numbered, US considers a ban over security concerns

TikTok, the new social media darling among teens, may have passed its heyday. India banned the app at the end of June following a border clash with China, and now the US is considering following suit.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a company facing intense scrutiny for privacy concerns over its data collection practices. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the administration was looking at banning the app across the country due to security concerns.

This threat comes after a Reddit thread, where a user claims to have reverse-engineered the app, went viral for saying that “TikTok is a data collection service that is thinly-veiled as a social network.”

Is the app a security risk?

The company has vehemently denied claims that it is a security risk, saying it does not and will not provide user data to the Chinese government.

“We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

Some researchers believe the allegations relate more to geopolitical tensions than tangible security risks. TikTok, like other free social media sites, collects data to optimise the app and send targeted ads to users. Experts say the focus on TikTok is more about its links to China, as American-owned companies like Facebook do the same thing.

However, some remain unconvinced. The app has a problematic past, facing accusations that it violated the US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act in 2019. The company was also caught copying data from iPhone users’ clipboards, along with more than 50 other apps, and has been criticised for censoring content opposing the Chinese government.

According to the Reddit user who reverse-engineered the app, “TikTok is essentially malware that is targeting children.”

They claim the app is collecting far more data than its social media counterparts — phone hardware, apps used, network-related information, and location data — and that the app hides what information is being sent.

The future of TikTok

A US TikTok ban is likely to dent the user base of the app, but not by much. It is estimated that users in the United States represent around 10% of the app’s total monthly active users (currently at 800 million).

The company faces a bigger problem with uncertainty around the future of the app and a loss of consumer trust. Rival apps like Byte have started targeting TikTok users in a bid to take over the social media giant in the short-form video sharing space.

Some formerly devoted users are migrating to other platforms like Youtube to salvage their follower numbers in the face of a potential ban. Brands have already put sponsorships on hold to avoid the negative news and await clarity on the app’s fate.

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