New York Times internet culture reporter Taylor Lorenz tweeted a screenshot from Brian Feldman, a New York writer, claiming TikTok is not a bigger threat than any other company that tracks and sells data. According to Lorenz, the post is a “good explanation on TikTok stuff.”
“Is TikTok a threat to American privacy?” Feldman had written in the post Lorenz shared and has since deleted. “I mean, yes, but no more than all of the other software and devices you use which are tracking you around the internet, and then selling all of that data to brokers who collate all of it and sell it yet again to other people who want to target you with ads for standing desks or whatever.”
The screenshot also includes the claim that the “selective fear of TikTok” is based on “xenophobic” and “racist” biases. Feldman had asserted that the skepticism surrounding TikTok is not equally applied to other technology companies and apps.
“The selective fear of TikTok is largely xenophobic, and racist, kinda in the same way people thought FaceApp was a Putin-led initiative simply because it was based in Russia,” it read. “Facebook fulfilled more than 51,000 law enforcement requests for data in 2019 [sic] Which is not to say you shouldn’t be skeptical of TikTok, only that you should be equally wary of its American equivalents.”
The post comes just a few days after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Laura Ingraham of Fox News that the United States was considering a ban on the app and would only recommend someone download it “if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
“We’re certainly looking at it,” Pompeo said. “I don’t want to get out in front of the president, but it’s something we’re looking at.”
One reporter covering China for Axios criticized the screengrab Lorenz posted for ignoring the full scope of the issue.
“This is very much NOT a good explanation,” she tweeted. “You can’t understand TikTok through the lens of Silicon Valley. You need to understand TikTok through the lens of Chinese law itself — at the very least.”
Vicky Xiuzhong Xu, an analyst for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, explained that TikTok’s ties to China pose a larger threat than any data harvesting conducted by other large technology companies in the United States.
“TikTok mines private data on a level that Facebook would only wish it dares to. By law, TikTok has to hand over data to the Chinese government when needs be, which can be used for purposes much worse than selling you a desk,” she explained. “It’s common in China that social media companies collect biometric data that is later used by the government for policing. It’s also a really bad idea to let TikTok have young people’s passwords when they’re future politicians and scientists that Beijing may choose to target.”
According to Xu, there is also evidence that TikTok’s parent company is heavily involved in the oppression and genocide of the Uyghur people, for which the U.S. just sanctioned China.
“TikTok’s parent company ByteDance also actively aids human rights abuses in Xinjiang — where a genocide of the Uyghur people is currently taking place,” she pointed out.
In Xu’s opinion, the conversation surrounding TikTok is about security.
“Personally, I only have TikTok on a burner device. This stuff isn’t about xenophobia, but security — personal, and national,” she added.
“For many young people, TikTok has been an outlet for creative expression and human connection, especially throughout months of distance learning and social isolation,” Lorenz wrote in another Tweet. “The threat of losing it is devastating.”