Last Thursday, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was called upon by the United States Congress to prepare a testimony addressing the concerns about whether TikTok violates American user privacy. Prior to the meeting, Chew celebrated the app’s success in having over 150 million active users each month. However, the celebration quickly became a source of fear as a national security risk over the significant amount of user data.
Government officials believed the platform could be used to promote Chinese foreign policy through its unique video recommendation algorithm- either by censorship or propaganda. While this is a huge risk to privacy laws, Chew reassures congress that the app is operating within the same boundaries as other social media applications.
According to CNN, there is no public evidence that the Chinese government is using the app for data collection of intelligence or other purposes.
“I think a lot of risks that are pointed out are hypothetical and theoretical risks…I have not seen any evidence. I am eagerly awaiting discussions where we can talk about evidence, and then we can address the concerns that are being raised,” says Chew.
It seems the main issue is not only the TikTok app itself but its connection to ByteDance- a Beijing-headquartered technology company that owns the app. US officials were quick to ban all its employees from using the app on official devices, even though several privacy and security researchers state that there are no prominent forms of spying or leaking of personal data.
It is said that TikTok collects equal amounts of information similar to Facebook or Twitter and also has large engagement with users.
“TikTok is only a product of the entire surveillance capitalism economy…And governments around the world are ignoring their duty to protect citizens’ private information, allowing big tech companies to exploit user information for gain. Governments should try to better protect user information instead of focusing on one particular app without good evidence,” says Pellaeon Lin, Taiwan-based researcher at the University of Toronto’s citizen lab.