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TikTok Looks to Reassure US Authorities that US User Data is Not Being Shared with the CCP

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TikTok Updates Ad Policies to Limit Unwanted Exposure Among Younger Users in Europe

After an FCC Commissioner called on Apple and Google to ban TikTok from their app stores last week, due to concerns that the app could be used as a surveillance tool, of sorts, by the Chinese Government, TikTok has sought to reassure US users that their data is safe.

As explained by TikTok:

“The security of the data our community entrusts us with is a top priority at TikTok, despite recent reports questioning that commitment. We have sent a letter to Congress addressing these issues and others, and also want to share with our community the steps we take to secure our US user data, as well as where we’re headed in our commitment to keeping US user data safe, private, and secure.”

TikTok points to its recent system updates, which now see all of its US user data routed through Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, keeping more US user data within the US, while it’s also developing its US-based engineering capacity in order to reduce the need for data transfers across regions.

“As we recently shared with members of Congress, we are working toward a new system in which access to US user data by anyone outside of USDS will be limited by, and subject to, robust data access protocols with monitoring and oversight mechanisms by Oracle.”

Though right now, TikTok says that some Chinese staff from parent company ByteDance can access US user data, in limited capacity.

“Like many global companies, TikTok has engineering teams around the world – including in Mountain View, London, Dublin, Singapore, and China – and those teams might need access to data for engineering functions that are specifically tied to their roles. That access is subject to a series of robust controls, safeguards like encryption for certain data, and authorization approval protocols overseen by our US-based leadership/security team. To facilitate those approvals, we also have an internal data classification system; the level of approval required for access is based on the sensitivity of the data according to the classification system.”

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So theoretically, US user data is accessible, in some form, by TikTok’s China-based staff, which could be a security vulnerability, under China’s strict cybersecurity laws. But TikTok’s working to assure US users, and authorities, that such access is very limited, and does not pose a risk, as such, based on how that information could be used.

Will that be enough to stave off another round of scrutiny on the app?

A lot of that will largely depend on the actions of the CCP, which is at odds with the US, and other governments, on several major fronts at present.

The Chinese Government has thus far refused to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the most significant world power to withhold its judgment on Russia’s military action, while China has also been encroaching on Taiwan’s borders in a show of force, which has seen the US offer strong support for Taiwan, in case of further action.

Such tensions raise the specter of even greater conflict, and as China continues to build its military forces, and establish new naval bases in the South Pacific, that underlying concern continues to reiterate questions about TikTok, and what its massive data trove could be used for in case of further escalation.

To be clear, there is no evidence that the CCP has called upon TikTok to share US user data in any capacity, and it may never do so, while TikTok’s advanced measures to separate region-specific data do go some way towards alleviating concerns.

But while China remains at odds with the rest of the world on several key fronts, there will always be questions as to how TikTok might end up caught in the middle, which, like India, could see it cut off from other regions as a result.

TikTok further notes that it’s created a new division called ‘US Data Security (USDS)’ – ‘to bring heightened focus and governance to our ongoing efforts to strengthen our data protection policies and protocols’. But again, none of this will matter if the Chinese Government continues its various stand-offs with other regions. And if tensions escalate, even a little, that could well be disastrous for TikTok’s growth plans.

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Because if the US were to decide to ban TikTok, other regions would follow, while if Apple and/or Google decided to remove the app, all regions would be cut off anyway.

It seems unlikely, right now, that TikTok could be banned entirely, based on current conditions. But things can change quickly, and the latest concerns underline the continued scrutiny of the app.

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These are the social media platforms we most want a detox from

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Instagram

Photo by Solen Feyissa / Unsplash

Many people like social media, others find it addictive but they are not necessarily enjoying the experience when they are using it. In this category there are some people who would welcome a detox, even if this is only partial. Digital detox refers to a period of time when a person voluntarily refrains from using digital devices such as smartphones, computers, and social media platforms. A digital detox can provide relief from the pressure of constant connection to electronic devices.

Looking at the U.K., a new survey finds that the majority want to delete their Instagram account ahead of any other. 

This finding comes from the company VPNOverview.com and the results have been shared with Digital Journal. For the research, VPNOverview analysed the number of monthly Google searches in the U.K. for terms related to deleting accounts to see what platforms people want a detox from. 

This process found that media sharing social network Instagram was the platform people wanted to delete themselves from the most, with more than 321,000 searches a month from users wishing to do so. Recently, Instagram came under fire and was accused of copying other competing platforms like TikTok after big changes were made to the app, with some of these changes now being reversed. 

Facebook takes second place, with more than 82,000 searches a month in the U.K. At the end of 2021, Facebook saw its first-ever decline in the number of daily users using the platform and a 1% decline in revenue in the last quarter of 2022. 

With more than 73,000 searches a month for information on deleting accounts, Snapchat takes third place. In July of 2022, Snap, Snapchat’s parent company, announced that they would be debuting Snapchat for Web, the first ever web version of the app since its initial release in 2011. 

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Plenty of Fish takes fifth place, with more than 23,000 searches around deleting accounts made every month in the UK. It’s the only dating app in the top ten, with Tinder narrowly missing out in 12th place with 8,500 searches. 

            Rank          Platform          Monthly searches to delete account 
        1      Instagram      321,000 
        2      Facebook      82,000 
        3      Snapchat      73,000 
        4      Google      50,000 
        5      Plenty of Fish      23,000 
        6      Twitter      18,000 
        7      Reddit      14,000 
        8      Amazon      13,000 
        9      Kik      12,000 
        10      TikTok      8,800 

Also featuring on the table is online marketplace Amazon, which comes in eighth place on the list, with 13,000 searches from people wanting to delete their accounts every month. Amazon recently announced that it was increasing the cost of its Amazon Prime service by £1 a month in the U.K., with annual memberships shooting up from £79 to £95. 

Commenting on the findings, a spokesperson from VPNOverview tells Digital Journal: “It’s interesting to see the contrast of platforms on the list, and how it’s not just social media that people want a cleanse from following controversies around privacy and data collection. Platforms offering subscription services like Amazon are also taking a hit, with the rising cost of living meaning many Brits are having to cut corners on things they use every day.”  

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