To the hundreds of millions of users who post videos to TikTok, the social video streaming platform seems fun and harmless. To the FBI, it’s a national security threat.
TikTok is owned by ByteChance, a private Chinese company based in Beijing. According to FBI Director Chris Wray, Chinese ownership means the Chinese government can control the app’s algorithm, manipulate content, and collect user data that can be used for espionage and other nefarious purposes.
TikTok’s Contentious History
TikTok became available worldwide in 2018 but really took off at the start of the pandemic and has been the subject of contention for several years. In 2020, the Trump administration threatened to ban TikTok due to security concerns and tried to pressure the app’s owners to sell it to an American company.
In June 2021, the Biden administration began an investigation into potential security threats posed by the popular app. The next year, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr wrote an open letter to the CEOs of Apple and Google, calling on them to remove TikTok from their stores.
In September of this year, a Senate hearing with executives from Meta, Twitter, and YouTube focused on how these social media platforms affect national security. TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas was questioned in depth and stated that the Chinese government does not have access to the private information of U.S. users.
Will TikTok Be Banned in the United States?
Pappas’ mantra – “TikTok does not operate in China” – has not managed to allay the fears of the FBI director or the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Concerns rose so high that in May, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee passed a bill that bans federal workers from downloading TikTok onto government devices. Several states have followed suit.
Responding to the U.S. military ban, Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s head of public policy for North America said, “Maybe they should consider banning all social media apps from government phones.”
While TikTok executives strive to compare their app to other social media apps, Chinese ownership has cast a pall over its operations. One recent opinion piece published in The Hill called TikTok “China’s Trojan Horse,” a gift they will use to ultimately overcome the U.S.
Though an overall ban seems like a stretch, it is likely U.S. government agencies and the popular video streaming app will have to reach an agreement to satisfy American security needs.
What Does the TikTok Threat Mean to the Average American?
While TikTok may pose a threat to national security, when pared down to what that means for an individual, the threat is not much different from any other online threat.
As always, anyone who uses a computer or digital device should:
● Use antivirus protection on all devices
● Beware of any suspicious emails or links
● Use strong passwords and multifactor authentication when possible
Any suspicious activity should be reported immediately to the proper outlet, whether an IT department at work, local police authorities in case of digital crime, or a website in which personal/financial information has been compromised.
Internet security threats do not mean we need to get offline, but they mean we should take proper precautions to stay protected.