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TikTok App: Is It Safe To Use? What Are The Dangers? Why does the US Want To Ban It?

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Tiktok is a social networking mobile app. The Tiktok app allows users to create short music and lip-sync, looping videos. It first launched in China in September 2016 and has grown extremely popular around the world after it went international in 2017.

How popular has it become? As at February 2019, Tiktok had been downloaded 1 billion times from Android and iOS stores. As at November 2019, it had recorded 1.5 billion downloads, putting it in the same league as global leaders, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Facebook, and Instagram in terms of numbers. These figures do not include downloads from 3rd party stores and sources.

TikTok App logo
The Tiktok app’s logo

Tiktok App vs Douyin App: Global vs China

In China, the Tiktop app is called Douyin. The global TikTok app is the same as the China-only version. But in order to meet Chinese laws, they do not run on the same servers. Douyin servers are based in China, while Tiktop TikTok servers are based in countries where the app is available.

Douyin app gained over 100 million users in its first year of availability in China alone. Once it went international as Tiktok, its runaway success was well on the way, with millions of users in India and the United States of America adopting it.

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In September 2019, the National Football League (NFL) and TikTok announced a new multi-year partnership to publish NFL content on the Tiktok app.

TikTok and NFL

On October 24th, the American Music Awards became the first award show to announce nominees on TikTok.

Tiktop App Downloads in 2019

Here is how TikTok currently stands in terms of download numbers in 2019 from the Android and iOS app stores:

  1. WhatsApp: 707.4 million
  2. Messenger: 636.2 million
  3. Tiktok: 614 million
  4. Facebook: 587 million
  5. Instagram: 376.2 million.
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A Tiktok user, asked about the app, described it as an app like Instagram, only better.

In 2020, TikTok all became the top downloaded app, overtaking Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp to take the number one position.

Is TikTok safe to use?

Researchers are generally of the opinion that the app does not pose any more risk to a user than any other social media sharing application, like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Which means, there is a lot of background processing of user data on it, just like it happens on those other apps.

Why does the FCC want to ban TikTok?

Like any social networking app, Tiktok accesses as much personal data as possible, with attendant privacy issues. The app includes parental control features designed to help keep minors safe. However, being a China-developed app, it is subject to China’s rules that give the Chinese government access to users’ private data. The US government has insisted that TikTok app harvests and sends back a huge amount of data back to China, something they are uncomfortable with.

In early 2019, the US began investigating Tiktok app on grounds that it might pose a threat to US national security. Not only does the app collect personal data – including real-time location, as all other social networking apps do, its privacy policy says that it reserves the right to share data with the Chinese government. This is naturally a concern to US authorities.

The FCC’s reports on the TikTok app has this to say of the app, “It collects search and browsing histories, keystroke patterns, biometric identifiers, draft messages and metadata, plus it has collected the text, images, and videos that are stored on a device’s clipboard.”

TikTok App

India and USA take action over TikTok app’s data privacy and security concerns

In 2020, India banned TikTok over national security concerns. The United States of America has made moves to take similar actions – an outright ban of the app from Apple and Google app stores, the option of selling its US business to a local buyer, or new, tighter rules that will give more oversight on the app.

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Commissioner of the US Federal communications Commission insists that, “TikTok is not just another video app. That’s the sheep’s clothing. It harvests swaths of sensitive data that new reports show are being accessed in Beijing. I’ve called on Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores for its pattern of surreptitious data practices.”

Who owns TikTok App?

Beijing-based Chinese developer, ByteDance, owns Tiktok.

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Tiktok app is available in over 75 languages and used in over 150 countries. ByteDance has offices in cities around the world, including Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, Jakarta, Seoul, and Tokyo.

References

  1. Tiktok and the National Football League (NFL) sign agreement: source.
  2. the American Music Awards became the first award show to announce nominees on TikTok: source.
  3. FCC Commissioner’s Twitter handle: source.
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