TikTok Under Review for Privacy Violations, US Wants to Ban Chinese Apps

TikTok logo

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Department of Justice are reviewing TikTok again. Last year, the company was slapped on the wrist for the way it was handling personal data. Now, the American consumer organization wants to make sure that TikTok is following the rules. The government is looking into whether it is possible to ban TikTok and other Chinese apps.

About TikTok

TikTok is owned by the Chinese ByteDance. You can use the app to record videos that are no longer than 15 seconds, and you could set it up that the video plays on repeat for a minute. You can find a variety of things on the app. There are videos of pets doing tricks, but also of users showing off their culinary expertise. Though most videos show people dancing, singing, or lip syncing.

Music.ly was launched internationally in September 2017, and changed its name to TikTok in August 2018. In the beginning, it was only used by a small number of people, mostly children and young teenagers. But now TikTok seems to be unstoppable and is growing exponentially. TikTok will probably reach 800 million users worldwide by the end of the year.

Invasion of Privacy, Settlements, and Investigations

TikTok has been criticized since day one. Earlier this year, there was controversy because the company policy was deemed discriminating and problematic. Videos that included handicapped people, people with obesity, or people from the LGBTQ+ community were censored for no apparent reason. But the platform did not step in when adults posted explicitly sexual comments under childrens’ content. TikTok heard these complaints and the company promised to do better.

Last year, the ByteDance app received a million dollar fine, because the app was collecting underage users’ data without their consent. The company was storing information such as name and email address. The law in the US says that children under the age of thirteen need to have their parents’ consent to be able to share personal data. The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) was written into law to protect children’s personal information. When thousands of parents started complaining about the fact that they hadn’t given consent for the data collection, but it was collected anyway, the FTC decided to prosecute. Eventually, ByteDance payed a settlement of $5.7 million. The company also had to delete all video’s created by kids under the age of thirteen.

Conference Call

But the FTC and the Department of Justice still aren’t convinced that TikTok is following the rules. They are not sure whether the company has improved the way in which they handle their underage users’ data. That is why they are looking into the company again.

Back in May, a group of privacy advocacy organizations filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and asked them to investigate the situation again. They claimed that the company did not delete the videos that they were supposed to delete. They are also not convinced that all the data that was collected has been removed. David Monahan, a representative for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, has confirmed that the FTC and Department of Justice have been in a conference call with ByteDance to discuss the situation.

TikTok Ban

Earlier this week there were reports stating that the US was considering banning TikTok and a few other Chinese apps. They want to do this because experts claim that the app is endangering national security. They say that the app doesn’t just collect data, it also shares it with the Chinese government. Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, told Fox News that he is taking the allegations very seriously. He has warned Americans to be cautious when using TikTok. When asked whether people should download the app Pompeo said “only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party”.

Pompeo’s announcement follows the ban of 59 Chinese apps in India, which happened for similar (political) reasons. The Indian government wrote in a press release that the apps that were banned because they endanger the sovereignty and integrity of the country. The ban in India comes after a border clash with China earlier this month. India has been TikTok’s biggest market, with over 660 million downloads since 2017. So the company has a lot to lose there.

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cybersecurity analyst and one of the founders of VPNoverview.com. Since 2014 he has been gaining international experience working with governments, NGOs, and the private sector as a cybersecurity and VPN expert and advisor.