FARGO — The United States government is looking into banning the social media app "TikTok," which is owned by a Chinese company that has been downloaded more then 2 billion times worldwide.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the government is looking into banning multiple Chinese social media apps, including TikTok. When asked if people should download it, Pompeo said "Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party."
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a tech company based in Beijing, China. It was not available to US smartphones until 2018, when the American app musical.ly merged with TikTok in a one billion dollar business deal. Critics are concerned TikTok could be sharing sensitive and private information to the Chinese Communist Party. A TikTok spokesperson denied this in a statement, saying in part, "TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the US."
The app has been catching the careful eyes of data analysts. Researchers at Penetrum find the app's code could allow TikTok to upload malware on whatever device it is installed on. Their findings cite several other potential security risks.
Jeremy Straub, associate director of the Institute for Cyber Security Education and Research at NDSU, said in a possible ban, the United States government is weighing the balance of protecting the public while keeping speech free and open.
With social media apps like TikTok, Straub explained the two primary types of information that could be used by the app: content users give it permission to collect, and content users post or generate.
"The fact that people are intentionally sharing this user captured content of themselves and others really makes it where the sky is the limit on what types of information may be out there on the surface," Straub added.
TikTok's terms of service agreements are broad according to Straub. So the user gives the company permission to do virtually anything with the content posted there. He said it is worth noting, the agreements are highly similar to those of Facebook and Twitter — along with other commonly used social media apps owned by American companies.
Straub does not believe TikTok users or parents should panic, since so far, there is no specific threat associated with the app. He said for now, there is only concern over what the Chinese government could do with the information it gathers.
One of the best things the public can do is simply watch what we post, and talk to kids about protecting their info.
"Starting in kindergarten and even in pre-school to start causing kids to think about what it is that they're disclosing," Straub said.
India's government banned TikTok, along with dozens of other Chinese social media apps on June 29th. They cited similar national security concerns. It happened shortly after violent clashes between Indian and Chinese troops at the Himalayan border.