NDSU cybersecurity expert weighs in on possible Tik Tok ban

The United States government is looking into banning the social media app “TikTok,” which is owned by a Chinese company that has been downloaded more then 2 billion times worldwide.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced that the government is considering banning several Chinese social media apps, including TikTok. When asked whether people should download it, Pompeo replied: “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a technology company based in Beijing, China. It was not available for U.S. smartphones until 2018, when the U.S. music app merged with TikTok as part of a billion-dollar deal. Critics are worried that TikTok may transmit confidential information to the Chinese Communist Party. A TikTok spokesman denied this in a statement, in particular, saying that “TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the US.”

The application has attracted the close attention of data analysts. Penetrum researchers believe the application code may allow TikTok to download malware to any device on which it is installed. Their findings point to a number of other potential security threats.

Jeremy Straub, associate director of the NDSU Institute for Cyber Security Education and Research, said the United States government is weighing a balance between protecting the public while preserving freedom of speech and openness as part of a possible ban.

In social media applications such as TikTok, Straub explained two main types of information that the application can use: content users give it the right to collect, and content users publish or generate.

“The fact that people are intentionally sharing this user captured content of themselves and others really makes it where the sky is the limit on what types of information may be out there on the surface,” Straub added.

According to Straub, the terms of the agreement with TikTok are extensive. Thus, the user gives the company permission to do anything with the content posted there. He said it’s worth noting that the agreements are very similar to the Facebook and Twitter agreements – along with other common social networking apps owned by US companies.

Straub does not believe that TikTok users or parents should panic, as there is as yet no specific threat associated with the application. For the time being, he said that there is only concern about what the Chinese government can do with the information it collects.

One of the best things that the public can do is just watch what we publish and talk with the children about protecting their information.

“Starting in kindergarten and even in pre-school to start causing kids to think about what it is that they’re disclosing,” Straub said.

India’s government banned TikTok, along with dozens of other Chinese social media apps on June 29th. They cited similar national security concerns. It happened shortly after violent clashes between Indian and Chinese troops at the Himalayan border.

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