Lure of TikTok to Global Young Raises Concerns

TikTok transferred the user data to two servers in China. (Image:  pixabay /  CC0 1.0)
TikTok transferred the user data to two servers in China. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

According to a report by the United States research firm Sensor Tower on April 29, social platform TikTok, known as the international version of the Chinese short video app Douyin, is a global hit and has been downloaded 2 billion times worldwide. In the first quarter of this year, TikTok generated the most downloads for any app software in history, accumulating more than 315 million installations from the Google Play app store. TikTok is owned by ByteDance Technology Co., headquartered in Beijing. It operates entirely outside of China and has captured an especially devoted fan base among American teenagers.

Current affairs commentator Mr. Yokogawa believes that the way young people now receive most of their information and news is through social media, just at the touch of an app. Tens of millions of Americans watch what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wants them to see and this is much more insidious and serious than the CCP’s huge public opinion campaigns. Such concerns are not unfounded if we analyze them further.

Cognitive ease

Social media observer Zola, based in New York, expressed its view to Voice of America (VOA) that TikTok has an underlying theoretical basis for breaking into American society under the cover of amusement, which is called “cognitive ease.” When users are under the influence of this state, they easily accept all the inculcated content without resistance, as everything seems comfortable and right. In this way, young Americans are being brainwashed, leading to the collapse of traditional American values, and are unknowingly being led to ruin, adoring communism and autocracy. United States Senator Josh Hawley also said: “Tik Tok threatens our basic values, including freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of belief.”

Current affairs commentator Mr. Yokogawa believes that the way young people now receive most information and news is through social media, just at the touch of an app.(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Current affairs commentator Mr. Yokogawa believes that the way young people now receive most of their information and news is through social media, just at the touch of an app. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

US Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)

In February 2019, French Broadcasting reported that Douyin, operator of the then video social networking app Musical.ly, now rebranded as Tik Tok, paid a heavy penalty, US$5.7 million to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), for illegally collected personal information from children. This has set a record as the largest civil penalty ever obtained by the FTC in a children’s privacy case.

This is a case that involved the violation of COPPA, which requires that websites and online services directed to children must obtain parental consent before collecting personal information from children under the age of 13. However, Douyin failed to seek parental consent before collecting names, phone numbers, email addresses, and other personal information from users under the age of 13.

Stealing personal information

On November 27, TikTok was sued collectively by more than 100 users in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California for allegedly stealing personal information from American users and transferring private user data to servers in China. The class-action lawsuit was filed by the group’s leading attorney, Misty Hong of Palo Alto, California.

TikTok was sued collectively by more than 100 users in the U.S District Court for the Northern District of California for allegedly stealing personal information from American users and transferring private user data to servers in China. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

TikTok was sued collectively by more than 100 users in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California for allegedly stealing personal information from American users and transferring private user data to servers in China. (Image: pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Ms. Hong and the litigants alleged that in April 2019, TikTok transferred user data to two servers in China — bugly.qq.com and umeng.com — which included information about the user’s device and any websites the user had visited. Bugly is owned by Tencent, China’s largest mobile software company, which also owns social network WeChat, while Umeng is part of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group.

The lawsuit also claimed that source code from Chinese tech giant search engine Baidu is embedded within the Tik Tok app, as is the code from Igexin, a Chinese advertising service. Security researchers had discovered way back in 2017 that these malicious codes could enable software developers to install spyware on users’ phones.

On November 6, 2019, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley said that the threat posed by TikTok was not just to children’s privacy, but also to national security. He said that data about the U.S. military and government personnel is at risk of being collected. Josh Hawley remarked that the U.S. military data may be used by the CCP for artificial intelligence and autonomous weapons development.

A potentially powerful tool

The American think tank Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) published an article on January 11, 2019, and strongly urged European and American countries to pay attention to the new security risks brought by TikTok.

No criticism whatsoever of the Chinese Communist regime is allowed on TikTok. TikTok is CCP to the core. All content is censored and seemingly tooled toward the war on young minds, the export of communism and totalitarianism, and destroying human rights, human decency, and morality. Its content is blue pill, a constant distraction dulling the senses and entertainment to death. It poses a threat to all free people.

Translated by Chua BC and edited by Michael Segarty

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