(WSPA) – As Congress mulls over an all-out ban on the popular social media app TikTok, you might be wondering what are the dangers, if any, to you and your family.
In this 7NEWS Consumer Exclusive, we get expert advice on the safety of TikTok and whether you should delete the app altogether.
Why the pull?
If you’ve never downloaded the TikTok app to see its constant stream of short entertaining videos, then you may not see the appeal.
However, users like Mark Matthews, a student at Clemson University, have one way to describe it.
“It’s really addictive honestly,” Matthews said.
Daniel Auber couldn’t agree more.
“I find if I don’t have the timer set I’ll just go on and on and on all day,” according to Auber.
“I’m on it like a lot, a lot more than I should be,” Allie Beckmeier said.
Still, it’s not the drug-like quality of the app that is under scrutiny, but rather what Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance, could do with all the user data it collects.
Why cyber security experts say you should be concerned
Derek Davis, the owner of Intelli-Net in Greenville, has had decades of experience in cyber security and is very concerned about what can be done with the data over time by a world player who is not friendly to America.
“I think the main concern about TikTok, in general, is that it’s not taking more information from you than Facebook or Instagram, it’s where that info is headed to, which is the Chinese Government.”
Davis knows your average TikTok user like Beckmeier doesn’t see the harm.
“If they want to use my information then just go for it, I don’t really care honestly.”
However, Davis urges people to be mindful of potential consequences.
“It cost the government of China nothing to store Terabytes of information about everybody in the United State and then they can use artificial intelligence programs to parse through all of this information, and then who knows what they might get at the end of it.”
What data TikTok collects
Investigations into TikTok reveal the app takes not just names, phone numbers, keystrokes and the personal data you post, but also can have access to emails and information from other apps on your phone.
TikTok also can decipher your location and identifiers of your device like the IP address, and even biometric data on your phone.
Not all experts agree
Dr. Richard Brooks, on the other hand, worries an all-out ban would border on government censorship.
He also said China can harvest almost any internet traffic data regardless of TikTok.
Still, he does find the app’s potential for spreading misinformation troubling.
“It could be a form of propaganda in helping influence people towards the Chinese viewpoints,” according to Dr. Brooks.
Some public universities banning TikTok
While an all-out ban is still up for debate, the recent ban on government phones is widely supported, and yet not everyone agrees on how far that government oversight should extend.
While public universities in South Carolina have not banned TikTok, a growing number in other states have, from Alabama to Oklahoma to Texas.
Still, many students are finding workarounds.
That’s because, while institutions can block the app through Wi-Fi networks, they can’t stop students who disagree with the ban from using their own data plans.
“I would be personally very bummed if I couldn’t use it on my personal device,” Auber said.
Users think twice
That’s not to say the ban isn’t making some users think twice.
“I’ve definitely seen a reduction in how much I’ve used it,” according to Michael Killion.
“If I’m being honest, I’m not too concerned right now, but if I heard more, I would remove it from my phone for my safety,” Matthews said.
Still, the pull of TikTok remains a powerful force.
“It’s just hard to get rid of it cold turkey,” Killion said.
It doesn’t go both ways
Before you make up your mind, one more warning from Davis, who reminds Americans that China bans access to social networking sites from America so the release of our information through TikTok would not be reciprocal.
“The Chinese government has a massive firewall that protects their people from seeing Western technology, but they certainly don’t mind harvesting information that comes from our country,” according to Davis.
He cautioned, in this world of artificial intelligence when images and voices are being captured forever, who knows what can be done with the mountain of data.
One thing is for sure, China may restrict access to its citizen’s information, but when it comes to what the adversary can do with ours, there are virtually no boundaries.
How to delete TikTok
TikTok said it can take up to a month for your videos and data to be removed.
- In the TikTok app tap Profile (bottom right).
- Tap three-line icon in the top right.
- Go to Settings and Privacy.
- Tap Manage account > Delete account.
- Follow the instructions in the app to delete your account.