Girl Holding Smartphone With TikTok App
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TikTok on Tuesday announced an update to its privacy policy that would allow its employees in China and other countries to access its European users’ data. This revelation has fanned fears about data-sharing with the Chinese government.

TikTok, owned by the Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd, said the privacy policy update would come into effect on December 2. This update specifically applies to TikTok users in the European Economic Area, the United Kingdom, and Switzerland.

Remote Access to European Users’ Data

Currently, TikTok stores its European users’ data in the U.S. and Singapore, Elaine Fox, TikTok’s head of privacy in Europe, said. In 2020, the company announced plans to create a data center in Ireland to store this data, but that’s yet to materialize.

TikTok’s latest privacy policy update would allow its staff in Brazil, Canada, China, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States to access its European users’ data remotely, “based on a demonstrated need to do their job,” she explained.

The changes to its privacy policy would also allow TikTok to collect location information from users’ devices.

Fox said this is part of TikTok’s efforts to provide a “consistent, enjoyable, and safe” experience for its users.

The move would be “subject to a series of robust security controls and approval protocols, and by way of methods that are recognised under the GDPR,” she noted. Nonetheless, the announcement has been met with cynicism.

Critics believe TikTok is a data-harvesting tool for the Chinese government, and the company’s latest revelation fails to assuage these concerns.

FCC Chairman Wants TikTok Banned

Meanwhile, in the U.S., Brendan Carr, one of the five chairpersons of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), told Axios in an interview this week that the U.S. government should ban TikTok.

“I don’t believe there is a path forward for anything other than a ban,” he said. Carr’s vocal criticisms of Chinese companies like Huawei and TikTok pushed the U.S. government to pass the Secure Equipment Act of 2021, which charges the FCC to protect the country’s telecommunications systems from foreign threats.

“China has a national security law that compels every entity within its jurisdiction to aid its espionage and what they view as their national security efforts,” Carr said earlier this year, alluding to the fact that Chinese companies must make all the data they collect available to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

TikTok’s User Data Conundrum

There are almost five billion social media users worldwide, making up nearly 60 percent of the Earth’s population.

TikTok is the world’s sixth most popular and fastest-growing social media platform, with about one billion global users. A 2022 Sensor Tower report said TikTok is the most downloaded social media platform globally, with over three and a half billion total downloads. TikTok has an estimated 220 million users in Europe and around 100 million in the United States.

“TikTok surpassed 3.5 billion all-time downloads in Q1 2021, becoming just the fifth app (and the only one not owned by Meta) to cross this threshold. No app has had more downloads than TikTok since the start of 2018,” SensorTower’s report said.

Despite its massive success, TikTok is no stranger to controversy — from hefty privacy lawsuits for collecting the personal of underage users to being completely banned in certain countries like India and Indonesia for hosting inappropriate content and suspected connections to the Chinese government.

It is unclear if TikTok plans to grant its staff remote access to the data of its users in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Earlier this year, TikTok came under tight scrutiny after revelations that its Chinese staff can access some non-sensitive data of its U.S. users.

To quell the concerns that arose from this disclosure, in July, TikTok said it is redirecting its U.S. users’ data to servers owned by U.S. software giant Oracle and limiting access to only authorized persons.

In September, TikTok’s Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas avoided U.S. Senator Rob Portman’s questions about whether ByteDance would share U.S. user data with the Chinese government.

Check out our article on the privacy risks of TikTok to learn more about the safety concerns associated with this app.

Wondering if TikTok is safe for your kids? Our guide to TikTok for kids contains everything you need to know.

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