I recently watched a TikTok video explaining how to fix a Wi-Fi router problem. It was really boring, but the video mentioned the actual Google router I use. In just a few minutes, I learned of a quick fix and was back in business, surfing from a corner office in my home.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed how TikTok has become almost indispensable in this regard. For whatever reason, we’ve been drawn to short-form video content, reels and clips that last only a few seconds or (in my case, with the router) minutes, but deliver just the right amount of information. We are all busy, overworked and stressed, so browsing TikTok videos relieves fatigue and solves problems.
Recently, the app has come under intense scrutiny.
The Senate wants to ban the app from federally owned devices — the measure will now go to the House and then to President Biden. Several states have proposed TikTok bans that limit government use.
This is a serious move that has far-reaching implications. The Senate passed the measure quickly and is intended to address a potential threat from China when they collect our data. States are also concerned about government use of TikTok.
What is at stake here is national security.
In a report, FBI Director Christopher Wray explained how the Chinese government could use data collected from TikTok to influence national operations, possibly including things like voter turnout during elections. In another report, TikTok was described as a “huge threat” because of how the Chinese government could use data collected from users to change the algorithm.
You can imagine how this might work. Let’s say you’re watching a clip about a political issue. The algorithm could be adjusted to stop showing you these videos. If the algorithm can handle it, then so can the users. China could modify what we see in the videos to support conspiracy theories, influence elections or create discord.
A bigger issue here has to do with what we I do not know about data collection. As usual when it comes to surveillance and security, the unknown threat from an app owned by a foreign entity is what most concerns lawmakers.
We just don’t know how China would use the data it collects from TikTok. When unknown elements are at play, the general consensus seems to be — block the entire application, especially if there is a risk to national security.
What happens next? Complete blocking of the application. Remove it from app stores.
For most of us, this is a serious issue, since we will have to decide how much data we want to hand over and to which entities. Many of us have compromised with apps like Facebook and Instagram. we hand over our data and they sell us ads.
These are American companies. TikTok is not. The geopolitical implications are real and tangible. When it comes to TikTok, the concern is more widespread. For now, the ban is not yet in effect, but the writing is on the wall. Now we just have to read the signs.