Rad Apps: Is TikTok spyware?

By DLM for Boston Compass (#127)

September 27, 2020


Rad Apps: Is TikTok spyware?

TikTok is definitely spyware, but it shouldn't be treated differently than other spyware.

Currently, during this time of disease and stress, our elected Big Honcho is using his increasingly short time to broker a highly suspect deal over a Chinese social media app popular in the USA: TikTok. The Trump and crony line is: “TikTok is a security and privacy threat to American interests.” But how true is this? Could there be other interests at play here?

Is TikTok a security or privacy threat? The answer is muddy but, like any social media, possibly yes. Tiktok, like all other mainstream social media companies, sends all of the information it opaquely collects about you back to its home base. Unlike American companies, it sends all of this information to the Chinese parent company Bytedance. From an NSA standpoint, this is bad. The NSA already has a well-documented spying agreement with all of the major American tech companies known as the PRISM program. Warrants sent to Google, Microsoft, Facebook, et al. by three-letter agencies are often granted without pushback; the process is streamlined. Naturally, the NSA does not have the same relationship with Chinese companies, on the contrary, it is the CCP that does the spying on its own citizens through Chinese companies such as Bytedance.

I believe all major social media companies are carefully crafted Orwellian casinos, so frankly my take is to avoid them if you can and be sparing with your personal information when you can’t. In other words: yes, TikTok is spyware, but so is every other social media company by the same metric. I posit that the Trump administration is unjustly targeting this platform for some other reason.

For one, the trade war with China isn’t officially over, so this could be a direct result of that. Trump has already pushed the blame onto China for COVID-19 since he is unable to accept his own complete failure; this naturally strained relationships since February. The panic over spying could be a legitimate fear, but why now? Could it be that people used TikTok to organize protests against the president? It’s hard to pin it on any singular factor.

Most importantly, there is no precedent for this. The CFIUS (Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States) controls the most power in overseeing sales between the US and foreign companies; the most recent, similar case was the CFIUS brokering the sale of Grindr from a Chinese firm to an American one over similar fears. What didn’t happen was a president targeting that specific app and setting rules for sale; that’s the CFIUS’ job.

What can you do? Avoid Tiktok, and while you’re at it stay away from Facebook, Instagram, and other similar social media companies. It’s about time we found alternatives especially in our socially distant new age. Join us on Mastodon at BostonMusic.Online!

Check out all the art and columns of September's Boston Compass at www.issuu.com/bostoncccompass