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TikTok Security Concerns Raised By U.S. Army

National security experts have raised concerns about TikTok’s collection and handling of user data

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Tik Tok logo is displayed on the smartphone
Tik Tok logo is displayed on the smartphone while standing on the U.S. flag in this illustration picture. VOA

The U.S. Army is undertaking a security assessment of China-owned social media platform TikTok after a Democratic lawmaker raised national security concerns over the app’s handling of user data, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said Thursday.

Speaking to reporters at an event at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, McCarthy said he ordered the assessment after the top Democrat in the U.S. Senate, Chuck Schumer, asked him to investigate the possible risks in the military’s use of the popular video app for recruiting American teenagers.

“National security experts have raised concerns about TikTok’s collection and handling of user data, including user content and communications, IP addresses, location-related data, metadata, and other sensitive personal information,” Schumer wrote in a Nov. 7 letter to McCarthy.

Schumer said he was especially concerned about Chinese laws requiring domestic companies “to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”

Ryan McCarthy speaking about TikTok
Ryan McCarthy, the nominee to the Secretary of the Army, speaks during his Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing, in Washington. VOA

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has launched a national security review of TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co.’s $1 billion acquisition of U.S. social media app Musical.ly.

TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company has previously emphasized its independence from China but has failed to assuage congressional concerns about the security of the personal data of U.S. citizens who use the platform and whether content on the platform is subject to any censorship from Beijing.

In a Nov. 5 blog post, TikTok’s U.S. general manager, Vanessa Pappas, said that the company’s data centers “are located entirely outside of China.” She said U.S. user data is stored in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore.

ByteDance is one of China’s fastest-growing startups. About 60% of TikTok’s 26.5 million monthly active users in the United States are between the ages of 16 and 24, the company said this year.

Earlier this year, Schumer also called on the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission to conduct a national security and privacy investigation into FaceApp, a face-editing photo app developed in Russia.

ALSO READ: U.S. Army Sparks an Industry Battle After it Looks For Robots.

The potential for the sharing of army information through the use of apps was highlighted after researchers found in 2018 that fitness-tracking app Strava was inadvertently exposing military posts and other sensitive sites.

In 2017, the Army ordered its members to stop using drones made by Chinese manufacturer SZ DJI Technology Co Ltd because of “cyber vulnerabilities” in the products. (VOA)

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TikTok Prevents Disabled Users’ Videos From Going Viral: Report

"This was never designed to be a long-term solution, and while the intention was good, it became clear that the approach was wrong," the spokesperson told the BBC

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TikTok has over 54 million monthly active users (MAUs) in India. Pixabay

Chinese short video-sharing app TikTok has acknowledged that content produced by disabled users was deliberately suppressed by the firm’s moderators in a bid to prevent these users from becoming victims of bullying, the media reported.

Facing criticism, TikTok acknowledged that its approach had been flawed, the BBC reported on Tuesday, adding that the measure was exposed by the German digital rights news site Netzpolitik.

Disability rights campaigners termed the strategy “bizarre”.

A leaked extract from TikTok’s rulebook gave examples of what its moderators were instructed to be on the lookout for: disabled people, those with Down’s syndrome and autism, people with facial disfigurements, and people with other “facial problems” such as a birthmark or sight squint.

Such users were “susceptible to bullying or harassment based on their physical or mental condition”, according to the rulebook.

TikTok
The logo of the TikTok application is seen on a screen in this picture illustration taken Feb. 21, 2019. VOA

The moderators were instructed to restrict viewership of affected users’ videos to the country where they were uploaded, according to an unnamed TikTok source quoted by Netzpolitik.

The moderators were told to prevent the clips of vulnerable users from appearing in the app’s main video feed once they had reached between 6,000 to 10,000 views, said the report.

Also Read: Lenovo Decides to Expands its Range of Smart Devices in India

A spokesman for TikTok admitted that it had made the wrong choice, the BBC reported.

“Early on, in response to an increase in bullying on the app, we implemented a blunt and temporary policy,” he was quoted as saying.

“This was never designed to be a long-term solution, and while the intention was good, it became clear that the approach was wrong,” the spokesperson told the BBC. (IANS)