The platform also seems vulnerable to censorship and algorithmic manipulation. This month, an executive at a company openly said they had overridden the app’s algorithm to push content onto TikTok, and it was reported that the platform was receiving content from users with Down syndrome, autism and other disabilities, as well as users oppressed, who are deemed “poor or ugly.” The app’s moderators have also censored videos about Tiananmen Square and Tibetan independence, meaning users in the US are presented with the Chinese version of the story. It is these aspects that disinformation and cybersecurity experts are sounding the alarm about.
“The things that keep me up at night are the harder things to understand — the big picture, the big picture, the propaganda — things that can be done at scale to move an entire population a tick or two,” says Adam Marrè , a former FBI cyber special agent and chief information security officer at Arctic Wolf, a cybersecurity firm in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, adding that “psychological models and the interactive nature” of apps like TikTok also leave room for political manipulation .
Maureen Shanahan, director of global corporate communications at TikTok, denied reports that the app is censoring information, saying, “TikTok doesn’t allow the practices you claim, and anyone can go on the app today and find content critical of the Chinese government.” ”
Whether the government’s concerns about censorship are enough to justify banning the service, or whether average users are at imminent risk, isn’t clear.
“I think it’s fair to say that the conversation is fear-driven,” says Dakota Cary, a fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global China Hub and consultant at Krebs Stamos Group, a cybersecurity consulting firm in Washington, DC in conversation is fear. Are we exposed to influences we don’t know about? Is this an attack? I don’t think political decisions made out of fear lead to good decisions.”
Analysts point out that double standards are also used in the debate about data protection. “Everyone is doing it — not just TikTok. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Google, you name it. If you’re not paying for a great service, then you’re part of the product, and being part of the product means your information is being taken and monetized,” says Marrè.
Of all the Chinese-owned apps, the reason why TikTok has faced such severe pressure is mainly due to its size and reach. “There’s a big difference between TikTok and these others,” says Marrè. “Even though they’re in the top 20, TikTok is the Leviathan.”
But analysts say if a ban on TikTok materializes, there’s a strong chance WeChat could be next.
Cociani says a US ban on the platform would be “a highly escalating move” and could sour ties with China. And it could be counterproductive.
“That would make international communication more difficult and possibly more expensive overall,” says Cociani. “WeChat users in banned jurisdictions would have to resort to VPNs to circumvent the ban — or their families and contacts would have to use VPNs to bypass Chinese censorship on foreign apps like WhatsApp and Facebook.”
In New York, Zhou worries that his parents will be separated on a whim. “I think it’s fair that there are safety concerns … but I also don’t think there’s an outright ban — it’s just not the right way to go about things,” says Zhou. “I mean, any app could collect data. How far does it go? Any non-friendly US country? It just has a lot of consequences.”
A ban would be devastating for older generations, he says, adding it would remove them from an “ecosystem” of family, friends and business sandwiched between the US and China.
“We… could probably come up with something and teach them to at least keep in touch with us, but just deprive them of the main sources of communication and entertainment? It’s going to be tough for them,” Zhou said. “It’s not just people in China, it’s people here.”
https://www.wired.com/story/if-the-us-bans-tiktok-wechat-might-be-next/ If the US Bans TikTok, WeChat Might Be Next