TikTok, a popular social media platform, is under the radar once again. This time, it’s not about viral dance challenges or lip-syncing videos, but a more serious issue concerning user privacy and national security. According to a Forbes report by Alexandra S. Levine, employees of TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, have been able to freely access user data, including the friend lists of high-profile celebrities and public figures.
This extensive access to data, according to people familiar with one of the company’s social graph tools, comes with few restrictions. The issue isn’t that TikTok maintains granular user information, a common practice across social media platforms. It’s the apparent lack of controls over these intimate data that raises eyebrows. The data can be mined by employees who don’t require it and the inferences they can draw about individual users and their social circles could be potentially damaging.
The report suggests that this ease of access to sensitive data and the potential misuse of it creates national security risks. TikTok’s Chinese ownership and the ability to access such sensitive data in China add to the concerns. This has led to fears that the platform could be exploited for influence operations, disinformation campaigns, espionage, or even personal blackmailing of specific users.
Despite these concerns, TikTok continues to grow with roughly half of the United States’ population using it today. With the 2024 presidential race on the horizon, the platform’s handling of sensitive user information remains a critical issue. As we continue to navigate this digital age, it is crucial that companies like TikTok prioritize user privacy and data protection.