By Ainsley Trunkhill / Managing Editor-Content
The globally-sweeping social media app TikTok, with more than 1.53 billion users, provides individuals with access to unlimited content, ranging from viral dance videos to political discourse. Some, however, wonder whether that unlimited access has gone too far — and, perhaps, into the wrong hands.
Kansas Governor Laura Kelly is one such individual. In December, Kelly passed an executive order banning the app on state-issued devices, following in the suit of now 27 states that have done the same. The executive order arose amidst security concerns that the app’s data could be shared with the Chinese government via ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok. These concerns date back to former President Donald Trump’s threats to ban the app during his presidency and, more recently, warnings from the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission.
According to HutchCC Chief Information Officer of IT Services, Mandie Lyons, these warnings hold technological credibility. TikTok tracks and collects all user data in an extensive and aggressive manner, building intricate profiles on all individuals.
“(This) includes the ability to collect user contact lists, access calendars, scan hard drives including external ones, and geolocate devices on an hourly basis,” Lyons said.
Furthermore, TikTok does not guarantee user privacy. In fact, experts believe that data harvesting is the sole reason for the ample sanctions that TikTok possesses. While ByteDance does not claim any ties to the Chinese government, cybersecurity researchers are confident in the government’s ability to harvest TikTok data.
“Under China’s national security laws, Chinese companies are required to share access to data they collect upon request from the government,” Lyons said. “If ByteDance has your data, the Chinese government has your data.”
With tensions on the rise between the U.S. and China, data collection can present serious consequences. Both countries are major world players, though as the U.S. sees a decline in its power on the global stage, as International Relations Scholars argue, China sees an opportunity to fill the space as a rising power.
“China wants more power and wants to project itself more on the international stage and is finding itself better and better able to do so,” said Brooklyn Walker, a HutchCC government instructor.
While the average U.S. citizen may not experience these tensions in daily life, the consequences behind the scenes are potentially severe. The possession of data is a valuable tool, which is seen today in its expanding power in foreign relations.
“The threat to the American government is very real,” Walker said. “The more sensitive your position is, the bigger your risk is.”
Currently, Kelly’s executive order reflects this sentiment, with the ban only affecting state-issued devices in government positions. Discussions for the future, however, suggest that this territory may expand. Several states have already issued TikTok bans on not just state-issued devices, but on college campuses. Auburn University in Alabama, Oklahoma State University, the University of Texas, and Texas A&M are just a few examples of universities that have banned the app from school devices or while using campus WiFi.
“I use TikTok quite a bit,” Jessi Conner, a current HutchCC student, said. “If they banned it at HutchCC I’d be sad … it’s just something fun to do when you’re bored.”
Whether regulations reach the college campuses of Kansas or not, Lyons urges individuals to advocate for their own privacy. Her precautions for TikTok include “set permissions manually via in-app and in-device settings, ignore requests for sharing information, and avoid using TikTok for general messaging.”
Overall, individuals should not share passwords, they should use strong passwords, and limit the amount of personal data that they share online.
“Do not lose sleep over (this),” Lyons said. “Be informed and follow best practices to keep your data safe.”