Hot on the heels of India announcing that they're banning TikTok, the U.S. government is thinking about doing the same in a move that will piss off an entire generation of teens who may never forgive republicans for taking away the app that gives them the opportunity to dance and voluntarily subject themselves to a humiliation usually reserved for high school dances that scar people for life.
Ever since the app became hugely popular, rumors have swirled that the Chinese-owned app is actually an elaborate and clever front for an enormous data-mining and spying operation engineered by the Chinese government.
A lawsuit filed in December of 2019 called TikTok "Chinese surveillance software" that "clandestinely has 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." The CEO of Reddit called it, "fundamentally parasitic," noting that it's "always listening" and admitted to being scared shitless by its fingerprint technology, which he didn't elaborate on. A Twitter account associated with the Anonymous hacktivist group told people to delete it immediately since it was "essentially malware operated by the Chinese government running a massive spying operation." Some rando on Reddit claimed to have "reverse engineered" the app to find that it's just a front to collect data.
Those warnings all sound scary, but I'm struggling to understand how these rumors are any scarier than any other app on my phone that's gleefully selling my data to third parties? What could they be collecting that's potentially more embarrassing than what people are willingly putting out there on TikTok? What makes this different from similar rumors that have been around for years that Facebook, Google, and Amazon have all been spying, listening, and collecting data without your consent. Is it scarier because it's a massive totalitarian government? Are they building a bomb powered by our K-pop dance moves?
What a corporation that's more concerned with shareholders and stock prices will do with my data is just as scary a thought. Everyone with any kind of power is doing it and it's terrifying across the board. It's good as a general rule to not use any of those globally ubiquitous yet benignly evil services that are our only tether to our friends, families, jobs, news, and culture. Being online and remaining private are not synonymous, and probably won't be for a while, if ever. If you're afraid of what China might do with your data, then don't use TikTok. But don't expect a big American tech company's motivations to be any better. It'd be a shame if we had to lose TikTok because it might be apart of a vast spying operation like it's a plot device from a Tom Clancy book. It's given us so many great things, like Papa John's former CEO John Schnatter using it to document his midlife crisis.
Luis can be found on Twitter and Facebook. Catch him on the "In Broad Daylight" podcast with Cracked alums Adam Tod Brown and Ian Fortey! Check out his regular contributions to Macaulay Culkin's BunnyEars.com and his "Meditation Minute" segments on the Bunny Ears podcast. Listen to the first episode on Youtube!
Top Image: TikTok