The majority of us are aware that social media companies collect enormous amounts of information. This allows them to target us with ads and monetize our attention. Yet, anecdotally, it appears that young people are unaware of the dangers that their TikTok data might be exposed from China.
One person said they didn't have much to hide from the Chinese government because they didn't want to use the app.
Is this a fair assessment? Should Australians be concerned about another social media company taking their data? TikTok, In a 2020 Australian parliamentary hearing on foreign interference through social media, TikTok representatives stressed: The safety and privacy of this data are our highest priorities. However, as Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) analyst Fergus Ryan has observed, it's not about where the data is stored, but who has access.
BuzzFeed published a report on 80 leaked internal TikTok meetings that appeared to confirm Chinese actors' access to US TikTok data on numerous occasions. ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, is based in China.
Brent Thomas, TikTok Australia's director of public policy, wrote to James Paterson, the shadow minister for cyber security, in July, concerning Chinas access to Australian user data.
Thomas denies receiving data from China or providing it to the Chinese government, but he said the access is based on the need to access data. So there's reason to believe that Australian users' data may be accessed from China.
Is TikTok superior to other platforms? TikTok collects extensive consumer information, including personal information and behavioral data, from peoples activity on the app. In this regard, it is no different from other social media companies.
They all need oceans of user data to push advertisements onto us, and data analytics behind a glamorous facade of cute cats and trendy dances.
However, TikTok's corporate roots extend beyond China and the United States, where the majority of our other social media originates. This has implications for TikTok users.
Hypothetically, TikTok may censor Australian users because it moderates content in accordance with Beijing's foreign policy objectives.
Users' feeds will be filtered to exclude anything that does not fit the Chinese governments agenda, such as support for Taiwan's sovereignty, as an example. In shadowbanning, a user's posts appear to have been published to the user themselves, but are not visible to anyone else.
This censorship danger isnt a hypothetical situation. In 2019, information about Hong Kong demonstrations was reported to have been censored not only on Douyin, China's domestic version of TikTok, but also on TikTok itself.
The hashtags related to LGBTQ+ are suppressed in at least eight languages on TikTok, according to an ASPI spokeswoman. The hashtags may be restricted as part of the company's localization strategy and due to local laws.
Keywords like #acab, #gayArab, and anti-monarchy hashtags were discovered to be shadowbanned in Thailand.
Douyin abides by strict national content laws, including censoring information regarding the religious movement Falun Gong and the Tiananmen Square massacre, among other things.
Chinese internet product and service providers must cooperate with government authorities in order to maintain their legal and financial obligations. If Chinese companies disagree, or are unaware of their obligations, they may be penalized or penalized permanently.
Another social media service managed by Yiming Zhang, the creator of ByteDance, was forced to close in 2012. Zhang issued a political rebuttal, saying that the platform had strayed from public opinion guidelines by not modifying material that conflicts with socialist core values.
Individual TikTok users should seriously consider leaving the app until concerns about global censorship are addressed.
Doch don't forget, Meta products, such as Facebook and Instagram, also monitor our interest by the seconds we spend looking at certain posts. They combine behavioral information with personal information to try to keep us hooked on ads for as long as possible.
Some actual instances of targeted social media advertising have contributed to digital delaying the development of technology to perpetuate social discrimination.
Facebook was criticized in 2018 for restricting men's employment opportunities. In 2019, it settled another digital redlining lawsuit against discriminatory advertising that targeted particular users on the basis of race, color, national origin, and religion.
Military and defense product advertisements were running alongside discussions about a coup in 2021.
Then there are the worst-case scenarios. Meta (then Facebook) disclosed user data to Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting company, without their consent in 2018.
Cambridge Analytica collected Facebook data from up to 87 million users, developed psychological user profiles, and used those to tailor pro-Trump messages to them. This likely had an influence on the 2016 US presidential election.
The most immediate concern for an average Australian user with TikTok is content censorship rather than direct prosecution. However, within China, there are regular instances of Chinese nationals being detained or even jailed for using both Chinese and international social media.
The consequences of massive data harvesting are not hypothetical. We need more transparency from not only TikTok, but all major social platforms regarding how data is used.
Let's continue the regulatory debate over TikTok's rapid growth. We should look to improve privacy safeguards and embed transparency into Australian national regulatory standards for whatever the next big social media app will be.