Friday, May 19, 2023

19: TikTok

Should governments ban TikTok? Can they? A cybersecurity expert explains the risks the app poses and the challenges to blocking it On May 17, 2023, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed legislation banning TikTok in the state. The law imposes fines of US$10,000 per day on any app store that offers the popular Chinese-owned video social media app, and on the app maker itself if it operates in the state. Individual users are not subject to penalties. The law, which is scheduled to go into effect Jan. 1, 2024, is the first total ban by a U.S. state government. The company claims 200,000 users in the state of 1.1 million people.......... What data privacy risk does TikTok pose? What could the Chinese government do with data collected by the app? Is its content recommendation algorithm dangerous? Is it legal for a government to impose a total ban on the app? And is it even possible to ban an app? ........... most apps collect data that the companies use in part to fund their operations. This revenue typically comes from targeting users with ads based on the data they collect. .......... what makes TikTok different from the likes of Pokemon-GO, Facebook or even your phone itself? ........ If most apps collect data, why are governments worried about TikTok? First, they worry about the Chinese government accessing data from TikTok’s 150 million users in the U.S. There is also a concern about the algorithms used by TikTok to show content. ......... If the data does end up in the hands of the Chinese government, the question is how could it use the data to its benefit. The government could share it with other companies in China to help them profit, which is no different than U.S. companies sharing marketing data. The Chinese government is known for playing the long game, and data is power, so if it is collecting data, it could take years to learn how it benefits China............ One potential threat is the Chinese government using the data to spy on people, particularly people who have access to valuable information. The Justice Department is investigating TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, for using the app to monitor U.S. journalists. The Chinese government has an extensive history of hacking U.S. government agencies and corporations, and much of that hacking has been facilitated by social engineering – the practice of using data about people to trick them into revealing more information. ............ TikTok and most social media apps have algorithms designed to learn a user’s interests and then try to adjust the content so the user will continue to use the app. ......... The Montana law aims to use fines to coerce companies into enforcing its ban. It’s not clear if companies will comply, and it’s unlikely that this would deter users from finding workarounds. .......... if the federal government comes to the conclusion that TikTok should be banned, is it even possible to ban it for all of its 150 million existing users? Any such ban would likely start with blocking the distribution of the app through Apple’s and Google’s app stores. This might keep many users off the platform, but there are other ways to download and install apps for people who are determined to use them. ......... A more drastic method would be to force Apple and Google to change their phones to prevent TikTok from running. While I’m not a lawyer, I think this effort would fail due to legal challenges, which include First Amendment concerns. The bottom line is that an absolute ban will be tough to enforce. ........ By some estimates, the Chinese government has already collected personal information on at least 80% of the U.S. population via various means. So a ban might limit the damage going forward to some degree, but the Chinese government has already collected a significant amount of data. The Chinese government also has access – along with anyone else with money – to the large market for personal data, which fuels calls for stronger data privacy rules. ............ Independent of a ban, families should have conversations about TikTok and other social media platforms and how they can be detrimental to mental health. These conversations should focus on how to determine if the app is leading you down an unhealthy path. .

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The US has lots to lose and little to gain by banning TikTok and WeChat The executive orders are based on national security grounds, though the threats cited are to citizens rather than the government. Foreign policy analysts see the move as part of the administration’s ongoing wrestling match with the Chinese government for leverage in the global economy. ......... The bans threaten Americans’ freedom of speech, and may harm foreign investment in the U.S. and American companies’ ability to sell software abroad, while delivering minimal privacy and cybersecurity benefits........ The Australian military accused WeChat, a messaging, social media and mobile payment app, of acting as spyware, saying the app was caught sending data to Chinese Intelligence servers. ....... banning the apps and requiring Chinese divestiture also has a national security downside. It damages the U.S.‘s moral authority to push for free speech and democracy abroad. Critics have frequently contended that America’s moral authority has been severely damaged during the Trump administration and this action could arguably add to the decline......... The administration’s principal argument against TikTok is that it collects Americans’ personal data and could provide it to the Chinese government. The executive order states that this could allow China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage. ....... Skeptics have argued that the government hasn’t presented clear evidence of privacy issues and that the service’s practices are standard in the industry. TikTok’s terms of service do say that it can share information with its China-based corporate parent, ByteDance. ........... The order against WeChat is similar. It also mentions that the app captures the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States. However, some of these visiting Chinese nationals have expressed concern that banning WeChat may limit their ability to communicate with friends and family in China. ............ While TikTok and WeChat do raise cybersecurity concerns, they are not significantly different from those raised by other smart phone apps. In my view, these concerns could be better addressed by enacting national privacy legislation, similar to Europe’s GDPR and California’s CCPA, to dictate how data is collected and used and where it is stored. Another remedy is to have Google, Apple and others review the apps for cybersecurity concerns before allowing new versions to be made available in their app stores. ......... Perhaps the greatest concern raised by the bans are their impact on people’s ability to communicate, and whether they violate the First Amendment. Both TikTok and WeChat are communications channels and TikTok publishes and hosts content. ........ In the case of TikTok, banning an app that is being used for political commentary and activism would raise pronounced constitutional claims and likely be overturned by the courts. ............. put the U.S. in uncomfortable territory: the list of countries that have banned social media platforms. These include Egypt, Hong Kong, Turkey, Turkmenistan, North Korea, Iran, Belarus, Russia and China. ........ Social media gives freedom fighters, protesters and dissidents all over the world a voice. It enables citizens to voice concerns and organize protests about monarchies, sexual and other human rights abuses, discriminatory laws and civil rights violations. When authoritarian governments clamp down on dissent, they frequently target social media. ......... China and the U.S. have already gone through a cycle of reciprocal company banning, in addition to reciprocal consulate closures. ........ They also cut U.S. firms off from the high-growth Chinese market. ......... The issues could be solved through better oversight and the enactment of privacy laws that could otherwise benefit Americans.

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