It’s Time to Get Real About TikTok’s Risks

It’s Time to Get Real About TikTok’s Risks

Whether or not TikTok is a unique and specific threat to US national security or merely a handy proxy through which politicians are wrestling with larger issues of data security and privacy, disinformation, content moderation, and influence in a worldwide digital market remains unclear.

Similarly, the use of Huawei, a Chinese telecom giant, in the United States’ own 5G infrastructure was met with controversy and ultimately banned.

According to Kian Vesteinsson, a research analyst at the nonprofit digital rights think tank Freedom House, “there is definitely evidence that Chinese influence activities are likely to escalate, linked to the Chinese government’s agenda more broadly of digital authoritarianism.”

But it’s crucial that we recognize the United States has its own secret national security monitoring agencies. In addition, US government agencies have been known to conduct activities like searching electronic devices at borders and monitoring social media accounts of those coordinating protests in the US in recent years.

In other words, these strategies disprove the notion that this is an external danger alone.

Additionally, TikTok may lead to an imbalance in available resources. TikTok’s popularity and widespread use in the United States may make it an ideal platform for the Chinese government to harvest personal information from American consumers and launch influence campaigns inside the country.

In the meantime, the US government may feel it lacks a comparable mechanism via which it can so immediately pull Chinese individual information and seek to change public opinion in China.

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Let’s pretend for a moment that US spy agencies had access to WeChat. They’d have to put up a fierce battle to maintain that access, and it’s always at risk of being uncovered and neutralized.

According to Jake Williams, director of cyber-threat intelligence at the safety agency Scythe and a former hacker for the National Security Agency, “China doesn’t have to struggle for access to TikTok; they have it by the legislative power.”

The possibility of Chinese data gathering across the platform is a major issue, especially when combined with other data previously gathered by Chinese state actors, but the TikTok app on people’s smartphones is not a significant threat in and of itself.

The popularity, ownership, and accessibility of TikTok mean that blocking the service in China is technically impossible. One question is whether the United States government should plot a business solution or encourage the establishment of an intriguing alternative platform.

The United States government has yet to find solutions to problems including social media privacy invasion, security concerns, and foreign influence operations targeting Americans. Expertise restrictions and countersurveillance won’t stop them from happening.

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According to Freedom House’s Vesteinsson, “one thing that we really should escalate here is that the US should be leading by example.” When the United States government is discussed increasing its surveillance capabilities, it sends a very poor message to other governments.


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