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Thursday 28 May 2020

TikTok faces YouTube challenge amid threat of security breach by China

The owner of TikTok, believed to be puppeteered by the Chinese communist party, keeps his own country safe while breaching others' security

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In India

There is hardly any need to tell you about the popularity of TikTok in India. During this period of lockdown in the country, meant to prevent the spread of coronavirus, there has been a spurt in the downloads and use of this mobile application. The Chinese ByteDance-made app is but soon going to be challenged by the formidable Google product YouTube.

YouTube is working on a short video app called Shorts and this app will compete directly with TikTok. Shorts, industry experts say, will be better than TikTok not only technologically and in terms of privacy choices offered to users but also commercially as it has a huge database of existing YouTube users to push the new product to.

In YouTube Shorts, users will get more videos and music than TikTok because YouTube already has billions of music licenses. Dampening the spirits, however, is the news that the launch date of Shorts is not known yet.

ByteDance, a company of China, launched TikTok in 2016 for domestic consumers. Two years later in 2018, it was launched in many countries of the world.

The TikTok is a lip-syncing app where you can pretend to sing or dance to a popular number lasting 3 — 60 seconds.

Just a few months after the global launch, TikTok became the most downloaded app on Google Play Store and Apple App Store.

TikTok a threat to national security

The TikTok app may be very popular among the user age group 10-30 years but its popularity raises serious questions about privacy and security. The security forces of many countries have banned the use of TikTok of soldiers.

The US government is concluding its investigation into TikTok after it sensed that the app was a potential national security risk. The Donald Trump administration had got alarmed when the Chinese firm acquired of American social media app Musical.ly. The acquisition came under retroactive scrutiny.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS) did not approve the buyout. Strangely, ByteDance had not explicitly requested clearance from the American authority that scrutinises acquisitions and investments by foreign companies.

Ergo, CFIUS opened a probe and now ByteDance may have to undo the merger. If it does not want to, the US will give it the alternative of changing TikTok’s app permissions entirely. That is, the US will force the Chinese company to accept downloads even when an American user denies it access to data in other parts of the mobile device. TikTok downloaders in the rest of the world cannot do this; if you deny it access to the whole of your device, you are not allowed to download the app.

“While we cannot comment on ongoing regulatory processes, TikTok has made clear that we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the US. Part of that effort includes working with Congress and we are committed to doing so,” TikTok had told Reuters last year.

The patriotic Americans had in March 2019 forced Chinese conglomerate Kunlun Tech to sell dating app Grindr. The US had marked its foreign ownership as a security risk too.

TikTok owners plead innocence in the whole matter, of course. “Our data centres are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law,” it said last year.

But early last month, “TikTok just does not want to answer questions under oath,” Republican Senator Josh Hawley said after representatives from ByteDance refused to appear for a congressional hearing for a second time. “What they want to do is take all of this information from Americans, especially American teenagers, and then ship it off to Beijing.” Hear him out:

Communists too clever to let TikTok affect their rule in China

What the clever Chinese do not tell you is that its free-for-all app do not disturb their own Chinese regime a bit. While operating within China, the company’s moderation guidelines explicitly instruct moderators to suppress content that is critical of Beijing’s excesses at the Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong or Taiwan’s independence.

“We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period. We are not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government; TikTok does not operate in China, nor do we have any intention of doing so in the future.” ByteDance’s sister concern Douyin, which shares features with TikTok in China, says. The gullible might believe it.

Another standard for communist propaganda

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) had reported in November that ByteDance was working with China’s government to facilitate human rights abuses in the Muslim-majority western autonomous region of Xinjiang.

And that is not the only Chinese technology that spreads its communist party’s propaganda. Alibaba, from which India received ‘help’ the day before yesterday to fight the coronavirus outbreak, developed Xuexi Qiangguo (meaning “Study to Make China Strong”) under its “Y Projects Business Unit”. It became even more popular than Douyin in China. It does nothing but drill President Xi Jinping’s ideas into users’ minds.

The Australian report incriminated Tencent and Huawei too.

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