People are turning to the popular app TikTok for a new social media experience. The question on the minds of many today is, who is the owner and should that concern you?
y now, most of us have heard of the popular new social media app, TikTok. Originally adopted by middle and high schoolers, the app has become almost as ubiquitous as Snapchat or Instagram and is quickly gaining steam among older generations. What makes the app special in today’s social media landscape is not only its uniquely viral video sharing capabilities, but also its country of origin and associated privacy questions.
Read below for more background on who owns TikTok and whether or not that should concern you.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese internet company that bills itself as the “world’s most valuable startup.” Headquartered in Beijing, the company was founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming, a software engineer in his mid-30s who had previous work experience at Microsoft. ByteDance’s first major success came in the form of Touitao, a news aggregator and article sharing tool today used by hundreds of millions of Chinese. TikTok was launched four years later under the name Douyin, becoming an instant hit among young people in China.
Today, TikTok has conquered Western markets and has become one of the most widely used social media apps alongside Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Most social media apps and other consumer technology products we use are either owned by a U.S.-based company or by another western country, such as the UK or Sweden. Should we be concerned that this company is based in China, an authoritarian country that has shown to-date little to no concern for user privacy or the very concept of individual rights?
This question is on the minds of many today when sharing personal information and video footage on the app. According to a class-action lawsuit filed in federal court in California, TikTok is accused of having secretly:
“…vacuumed up and transferred to servers in China vast quantities of private and personally-identifiable user data that can be employed to identify, profile and track the location and activities of users in the United States now and in the future.”
Whether or not the claims made in the lawsuit are accurate is still under investigation. However, the federal government has already decided that while the app can be used by individual citizens, the U.S. has already taken steps to curtail its use among certain government personnel, such as soldiers in the Army. Further legislation in the Senate has been proposed to ban all government employees from using the app.
Whether or not you should stop using TikTok is a question beyond the scope of this journal. However, below is a list of helpful articles from a variety of viewpoints that can guide you in your decision.
“The Department of Defense Is Warning People Not to Use TikTok Over National Security Concerns”
“TikTok national security problem: Don’t ignore the lessons of 2016”
– The Hill
“TikTok to Stop Using China-Based Moderators to Monitor Overseas Content”
– The Wall Street Journal
Whether or not TikTok survives both U.S. lawmaker and consumer scrutiny, it is best to stay alert with all of our apps where personal information is shared, even U.S.-based ones.