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New Canadian research defends TikTok says it is similar to Facebook

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Kuldeep Singh
Kuldeep is a Journalist and Writer at Revyuh.com. He writes about topics such as Apps, how to, tips and tricks, social network and covers the latest story from the ground. He stands in front of and behind the camera, creates creative product images and much more. Always ready to review new products. Email: kuldeep (at) revyuh (dot) com

TikTok, the short Chinese video-sharing app owned by ByteDance, doesn’t represent any threat to the U.S. national security, new research by Citizen Lab affiliated to the University of Toronto concluded, as the Biden administration continues to evaluate the potential risks of this application to decide whether it should be banned.

According to the report, researchers didn’t find any “overt data transmission” by TikTok app to the Chinese government as the app did not approach any servers located in China during its testing. Nevertheless, they did not rule out the possibility that user data collected at foreign lands could be sent to China later.

Pellaeon Lin, the lead study author, points out that TikTok is collecting similar amounts of data as Facebook to track the behaviour of its users to serve ads.

This data include device information such as identifiers and network address names, as well as usage patterns such as the posts liked by a user.

ByteDance did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent on Tuesday. A transparency report released by TikTok last month, which listed law enforcement data requests it received globally in the second half of 2020, did not show any requests from China, where only its sister app Douyin is available.

TikTok, which was the world’s most downloaded non-gaming app alongside Douyin last month, has been the target of global concerns due to its Chinese ownership.

As TikTok quickly rose to become a favourite among teenagers in North America, US lawmakers have been raising concerns over potential Chinese government access to the data of US users.

Last year, the Trump administration moved to ban the app in the US citing national security concerns, forcing ByteDance to find a buyer for TikTok’s US operations. The Chinese company eventually reached a deal with Oracle, but the South China Morning Post recently reported that ByteDance has walked away from the agreement after Donald Trump lost the re-election. 

Although with the new Biden presidency, the threat of banishment appears to have subsided, TikTok’s troubles in the US may not be over, according to analysts, since the new administration has made it clear that it will continue to focus attention on security risks posed by Chinese technologies.

TikTok has also faced suspicions in other parts of the world, including India, which banned the platform along with 58 other Chinese-made apps in June 2020 following a deadly border clash between the two countries. This month, Ireland’s data protection commissioner Helen Dixon expressed concerns that EU citizens’ data may be accessed by AI engineers in China.

The report also found that the app did not restrict any of the keywords it tested, most of them related to Chinese politics and Covid-19. However, researchers saw that some politically sensitive posts later became unavailable. Since it was unclear whether the posts were deleted by the users or the platform, the Citizen Lab said that evidence for political censorship was inconclusive.

Citizen Lab also delved into privacy, security and censorship issues related to Douyin, which operates in a market with strict content control.

It found that the app forbids users from posting politically sensitive content according to Chinese laws. And while Douyin and TikTok share many similarities in their source codes, researchers found that Douyin restricted some keywords.

The app also collects more data compared to TikTok, prompting privacy concerns from the researchers.

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