White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson announced a TikTok ban on government devices. The ban will prevent the use of TikTok on White House devices and might impact ad revenue.
The social media app is reportedly making changes to its algorithms and the “For You” page is set to become more transparent. But the company might be up for a difficult undertaking as it tries to convince the US government that it is not influenced by the Chinese government.
A TikTok Ban: Data Privacy and Other Concerns
The omnibus spending bill has a provision for a TikTok ban on federally funded phones.
The bill when passed will make it illegal to have the video-sharing app on federal government devices.
The TikTok ban is expected to have a considerable effect as the US has over 100 million active users. The app has continually faced rumors that the China-based company that owns it, ByteDance, is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.
The app has been extremely popular worldwide although data privacy concerns have continued to affect its usage. TikTok’s tracking systems allow third-party trackers on its platforms.
In October 2022, Forbes released a concerning Tiktok tracking report where the company was accused of planning to use the app to monitor the physical location of specific American citizens.
ByteDance quickly denied the story and mentioned that it did not track the “precise” locations of its users.
Marketing company URL Genius found that TikTok and YouTube collect more user personal data than any other social media app.
Two years ago, a Reddit user named bangorlol ignited a discussion about the app, after he reverse-engineered TikTok and recommended that people never use the app. He mentioned that the app collects data on your device, your contacts, and how you’re using it. Bangarlol pointed out that at the time, users could not use the app if they blocked communications to the app’s analytics host.
What really scared people was his assertion that TikTok collects an extremely large amount of data, and is far ahead of other social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, or Tinder.
Bangorlol told Bored Panda that we, as a society, have normalized giving away our personal information and have no expectations of privacy and security anymore, so giving TikTok our data together with our money is nothing surprising.
Previously, in 2020, the US government had attempted to prevent new users from downloading TikTok citing security issues but was unable to put a TikTok ban in place.
“The ban is minimal, extraordinarily minimal on the overall TikTok user base,” said Matthew Quint, a brand expert at Columbia Business School. “The question is more, ‘will this action get the ball rolling to create a bipartisan movement to fully ban the service because of a potential threat to national security?’”
Meanwhile, on December 19 state agencies in Louisiana and West Virginia enacted a ban on government devices, citing concerns about Chinese influence.
TikTok’s Transparency Initiative
“We’re disappointed that Congress has moved to ban TikTok on government devices — a political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests — rather than encouraging the administration to conclude its national security review,” TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement to Recode.
The social video hosting service is disappointed by recent developments as it was working on providing users with greater access to its inner workings.
The new feature will show users why TikTok recommended certain videos over others. TikTok For You feeds are meant to enable people to discover a wide variety of entertainment curated to their wishes.
In the “For You” feed, tapping on the question mark in the share panel pulls up the “Why this video” feature. It will explain the more technical details like why some videos were selected for you based on user interactions, content you watch, like, or share, comments, and searches.
The algorithms also take your interests into account by analyzing whom you follow, what you’ve posted and your region. The company is making many changes to bring “meaningful transparency” to its platform.
On their website, TikTok wrote, “we publish guidelines for content categories that are ineligible for recommendation, tools to help customize recommendations, and educational resources that explain how our content recommendations work. “
Despite these reassurances, lawmakers worry that the app is promoting Chinese narratives or using it as a medium to spy on Americans.
Computer security experts who have studied TikTok’s tracking features feel that some concern over the social media app is warranted.
For some time now, US lawmakers have been considering a bill that will make privacy by design a feature in systems. Instead of users having to opt out of certain in-built conditions, the bill aims to focus on data privacy.