May 18, 2024

US Government vs. the World Wide Web: Why the TikTok Ban Barely Helps

Mission: Impossible? The US government wants to put an end to the activities of the popular social media service TikTok
Photo: kovop58 – shutterstock.com

With his plans to ban TikTok from mobile phones and government systems within 30 days — as Reuters report – “To prevent internet traffic from reaching the company,” US President Joe Biden may encounter unexpected difficulties: such as Gizmodo along with app analytics platform AppFigures DiscoverThousands of apps — many of which are already installed on the work phones of federal employees — use code that sends data to TikTok.

According to research, TikTok Software Development Kits (SDKs) are used in more than 28,000 apps. These include popular games like Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, Trivia Crack, and Fruit Ninja, photo-editing apps like VSCO and Canva, lesser-known dating apps, weather apps, wifi widgets, and a variety of other apps from every conceivable category, reports Gizmodo.

TikTok SDKs are used to integrate apps with TikTok systems and to send TikTok user data for functions such as in-TikTok advertising, login, and sharing of videos via the app.

DoD employees ignore blocking apps

Simply relying on the common sense of government employees is clearly not enough. Like one — made out of fear of TikTok US Department of Defense investigation He revealed that Pentagon employees use countless unauthorized, banned, and potentially dangerous apps on government phones and systems.

Apps installed despite breaching security guidelines include apps for drones made by Chinese companies (believed to be DJI), dating apps, games, third-party VPNs and apparently TikTok, according to the report. Some of the apps on employees’ companies’ smartphones have “known cyber security risks, and operational security risks.” [oder] potentially inappropriate content,” the inspector general’s report said on the investigation.

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TikTok trackers are widely used

Apps aren’t the only source of data for TikTok, though: There are TikTok trackers spread across more and more websites. However, this is not a special case with TikTok, but a common practice for social media and advertising companies. Companies that want to advertise on TikTok place cookies and tracking tools called “pixels” on their websites to provide the company with data about who visited the site and what they did there.

Bytedance, the company behind the popular social media service, does not hide data collection, but it does report – of course with an eye on advertisers – All open, which is information collected by the TikTok pixel. “Advertisers may choose to send us data about events in their apps so we can measure the effectiveness of their ads, create audiences, and improve ad delivery,” Gizmodo quotes a TikTok spokesperson as saying. “We only collect data that the advertiser chooses to submit.”

Regulating data brokers lags

However, the real issue isn’t what kind of data TikTok collects or how the company collects it, but who gets access to it. Under Chinese law, the government can force companies to release nearly unlimited amounts of information — an argument also used against US-sanctioned manufacturers such as Huawei or DJI.

As Daniel Kahn Gilmore, chief technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), points out to Gizmodo, the Chinese government wouldn’t even need TikTok and Co’s help: If Chinese government officials wanted American data, they could buy it from American companies. There are hundreds of data brokers in the US with little or no legal oversight.

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“Even if TikTok didn’t exist, China could buy confidential information about American consumers from other companies,” said Kan Gilmore.