Did you, a millennial, finally break and download TikTok? Did you tell yourself you were only doing it so you could lurk at first, and now you’re spending your days learning full-fledged choreography? Well, your shot at TikTok stardom might be short-lived, if the Trump administration gets its way. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News that the administration was considering banning TikTok over privacy and security concerns. Anddd this is why we can’t have nice things. Is TikTok nice? Maybe not. In that case, this is why we can’t have mildly entertaining things.
Pompeo expressed to Fox News that the administration’s concerns with TikTok have to do with whether the company is giving private user data to the Chinese government, since it is owned by Beijing-based tech company Bytedance. But Bytedance insists they’re not doing that, and told Business Insider in a statement, “TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy in the US.” Indeed, on June 1, they hired Kevin Mayer, Disney’s former head of streaming, to serve as the CEO. They added, “We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”
The United States is not the only company who has issues with the video app, and on July 1, India banned TikTok (as well as a slew of other Chinese apps) after it was discovered that the app could secretly access user’s clipboards in a beta version of iOS 14. And I know what you’re thinking, because I thought it too: if the Chinese government wants a draft of the text calling out a f*ckboy that I’m first sending around to all my friends for approval, they can have it. Right?
Ehhh maybe not. I spoke to Cyber Security Expert Vinny Troia who explained that apps copying your clipboard could pose security issues, for instance, if you use a password manager and copy and paste it into various apps. It could also copy things like email addresses, account-reset links, personal messages, and cryptocurrency wallets (lol good thing I was already too stupid to figure out cryptocurrency).
But there was another issue, as Troia explained: “it appears when people are on other apps, like Instagram, Tiktok is grabbing that content.” He explained that this could have been set up for benign reasons, “like predictive text”, but says, “there’s really no reason it should be monitoring what you’re typing in other apps.” A TikTok representative claimed the feature “was triggered by a feature designed to identify repetitive, spammy behavior. We have already submitted an updated version of the app to the App Store removing the anti-spam feature to eliminate any potential confusion.”
Okay so TikTok is grabbing the contents of my clipboard every 1-3 keystrokes. iOS 14 is snitching on it with the new paste notification pic.twitter.com/OSXP43t5SZ
— Jeremy Burge (@jeremyburge) June 24, 2020
Even though TikTok claimed the clipboard copying was a technical bug due to an anti-spam filter, the damage was already done, and the Indian government pulled the app, claiming it (along with 58 others) “engaged in activities which is prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order.” So, whatever the reason may be, the app appears to be (or appeared to have been) collecting users’ data without them knowing. To what end? Well, that’s the bajillion dollar question.
The ban also came after a border dispute between China and India turned deadly, and there are also more subtle concerns that the app restricts free speech, especially with respect to criticizing the Chinese government, so maybe it’s not about the
pasta clipboards at all, but something a lot deeper and darker than what I presumed when I initially thought I’d be writing a quick piece on if TikTok is going away.
If you (again, like me), are wondering WTF any of that means, this issue can be loosely translated to various governments saying of TikTok:
So, is TikTok in fact a fugly slut? It’s hard to say. On the one hand, you have Mike Pompeo literally telling Fox News that you should download the app “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” On the other hand, TikTok says they are like, totally chill and would never sell your info out. And of course, you’d have to take both those sentences with more grains of salt than you can find in a Himalayan salt cave since of course both those parties would say exactly those things.
Donald Trump has also expressed his desire to ban TikTok in the U.S., but for less… shall I say… altruistic reasons. Trump said in an interview with Gray Television’s Greta Van Susteren, “Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful,” adding that banning TikTok is “one of many” ways his administration is considering for getting back at China. Ah yes, that sounds more like the Trump we know and… know. And I’m sure it has nothing to do at all with the fact that TikTok was the main social media platform on which his rally in Tulsa got trolled.
Before you freak the f*ck out, one thing to keep in mind is, as Troia notes, “I’m not seeing indication that this information is going anywhere. So it could be just bad programming.” Basically, just because TikTok is storing this information doesn’t necessarily mean they are necessarily sending it somewhere, and TikTok has asserted that they are, in fact, not sending any stored information to the Chinese government. Also, it’s not just TikTok, and a bunch of your apps are doing the same sh*t with the clipboard copying.
So is TikTok a not-so secret weapon by the Chinese government or an unfortunate victim in a power grab, like a child caught between two parents in a divorce? I have no answers, so whether you want to keep using TikTok is up to you—for now. Somebody call Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin, because it’s complicated. All I’m saying is that none of this was happening back when we had Vine.
Images: Kon Karampelas / Unsplash