Despite increasing scrutiny of government employees’ use of TikTok, a Chinese social media app, the mainstream media failed to see the big picture: user privacy. With multiple American government departments banning its use on government phones and devices, the media did not link the government’s concerns with TikTok and nor did it convey the potential privacy risks to the app’s young American users.
So far, the United States Department of Defense (which oversees the military branches), the State Department, and the Department of Homeland Security have banned TikTok from being used on government-issued devices and discouraged personnel’s use of the app.
This week, the Transportation Security Administration joined the ranks and officially banned employee use of TikTok after Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called for the TSA to join other government departments in banning its use. The TSA noted that although employees posted TikTok content from their own personal devices, TSA never had an official TikTok account and it complied with Schumer’s statement.
The majority of American users of the TikTok app are young and one report claimed 60 percent of the app’s audience is between the age of 16 and 24. The app focuses on sharing short videos of users lip-syncing or performing comedy acts. As Accuracy in Media reported last month, a Beijing-based technology company ByteDance designed the app, initially calling it Musical.ly. It later changed its name to help promote it on a global scale. In December 2019, the app became the first Chinese-owned app to become the top app in the U.S. Apple Store.
Data privacy is an emerging concern among American consumers, with public pressure forcing technology and social media companies to be as transparent as possible with their users. The media did its basic job of reporting on TikTok-related news, but it should take the next step and outline why the government’s wariness about the app should also apply to American civilians and their children.
With their data exposed to a China-based app, it is unclear how or where the information is stored. For example, one report said that ByteDance stores TikTok data in China and may not subject to U.S. data privacy regulations.
The media should explain clearly why American parents should dissuade their children from downloading TikTok apps on their devices, which data could be exploited in the future.