back to article TikTok: Is this really a national security scare or is something else going on?

TikTok, the made-in-China video-sharing upstart that's outshone rivals, has copped a lot of criticism of late. Nations are one by one banning it from government-owned devices over what's said to be fears that the Middle Kingdom could order TikTok's overseers to silently poison the software to directly spy on millions or …

  1. b0llchit Silver badge

    The shiny-shiny trap

    All of the "social" media has very little to do with social. The platforms are designed to be addictive and are designed to influence the user. It is a propaganda machine. The propaganda is of commercial, political or any other character. The whole system is there to manipulate by using extracted data and psychological tricks. When you write:

    You know, like Facebook did to its own addicts.
    (emphasis mine)

    "did"? Since when is this all in the past? This is happening still today. Nothing has changed. Well, yes, it has changed for the worse. And now some politicians are getting on their high horse because of tiktok? Hypocrites! If any were really serious, then we'd ban all the social media and make them pay for the damage they have done. But, the "domestic" influencers are instrumental to the politicians and they need the propaganda for themselves.

    But tiktok, no, they are the competition! They are sending data to the "bad guys". And the "bad guys" can influence now too. Better ban the "bad guys". Good guys, bad guys,... they're all fucking hypocrites.

    1. cookieMonster Silver badge

      Re: The shiny-shiny trap

      I really do want to give you more than 1 upvote, you’ll have to settle for just the 1, and a pint.

    2. iron Silver badge

      Re: The shiny-shiny trap

      > All of the "social" media has very little to do with social.

      I disagree. Mastodon is nothing like InstaFaceTwitTokGram.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The shiny-shiny trap

        That's because it has no centralized dopamine-pushing feedback algorithm, and therefore no "viral" contagion.

  2. Spanners Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    I was not interested in it.

    It was probably age but I was never attracted. I presume that may be because I am 63.

    Several Youtube channels list TikTok as something they use and some "shorts" they provide come with that Logo so I assume they originated there. I get the distinct impression that select channels aside, most of TT is stunningly boring.

    If "they" do not want me to use it, should I revise my opinion?

  3. 3arn0wl


    What I am constantly amazed by, is the amount of data that people broadcast - whether knowingly or in ignorance.

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: Staggering

      I think it's in knowing ignorance, they know and are still like "so what...?"

  4. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge

    What's good for the goose...

    Until China opens itself to foreign social media companies like Facebook, other countries should close themselves to Chinese social media companies. It's called reciprocity. That's before one gets to the invasive CCP issues.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: What's good for the goose...

      Chinese TikTok has strict parental controls, a memory hole, and is also used as a payment method.

      One could almost think that the app as it is outside of China is meant to topple the decadent west under an avalanche of bullshit.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What's good for the goose...

        Self-generated bullshit, actually

      2. Yes Me Silver badge

        Re: What's good for the goose...

        As far as I can tell, we don't need a Chinese app for that, we have plenty of home-grown.

    2. Esoteric Eric

      To beat China

      We must become China

      Genius mate, fracking genius argument

  5. alain williams Silver badge

    Almost all of what TikTok can take is benign

    but in amongst the barnfulls of hay will be a few golden needles. A few years ago these nuggets would have been hard to find but with modern computing (and AI ??) they can be found.

    TikTok grabbing important confidential documents & messages is what one thinks of but this is probably not the top worry.

    Grabbing address books is a valuable as it shows who speaks to who and enables building of maps of influence. Knowing who are friends & family gives ways of reaching people.

    Location/GPS data - who is with who. This means that TikTok should be banned not just on official 'phones but personal ones as well - you will not succeed in making people leave their personal ones at home.

    Long experience has taught us that people are poor at security, no matter how often they are reminded. The only way to keep safe is to remove the ability to make mistakes.

    Then, of course, there is how TikTok could be used to change opinions but promoting a few memes. We do this to ourselves where idiot ideas go rampant, what it they were carefully planted.

    Can China make TikTok do it ? Definitely "yes". Why would China do it ? For starters just look at what it is doing to submarine cables in the South China sea.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Regarding WhatsApp..

    The reason that WhatsApp bleats so much about how wonderful they are using message encryption is simply to distract you from what it is REALLY after: relationship data and address books.

    WhatsApp is the only messaging app that bluntly refuses to work unless it has access to your address book. All messaging apps tell you who else in your address book uses the same app, but they do this via matching hashes of contact details. WhatsApp copies the whole address book wholesale instead, non-optional. It won't even work without it.

    Now for the fun part: if you are a business or government person in Europe, you are subject to privacy legislation. If you use WhatsApp and have even just a SINGLE set of personal details in your address book whose owner has not given EXPLICIT permission to share this with Zuckerberg, you are breaking the law.

    Ask your lawyer if you want to risk that as it can get quite costly*. Maybe WhatsApp is a lot more risky than Tiktok..

    * Unless, of course, you do it in blisteringly large volume like, say, Equifax, because then you get a volume discount on the fines, irrespective of how much harm you caused.

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: Regarding WhatsApp..

      "Ask your lawyer if you want to risk that as it can get quite costly*"

      That's supposing the regulators can be arsed to investigate. In the UK, of the 58344 complaints of all kinds considered by the ICO in the four years between Q2 2019 and Q2 2022, no action was taken in 32185 ( 55%) of cases. The biggest problem with EU/UK data protection law is that practically everybody ignores it and it's inadequately policed.

  7. Nifty Silver badge

    The interesting thing to me is not that TikTok could use memes and knowledge about subscribers to influence behaviour, it's that the AI that's in the background will be goal-seeking yet inexplicable. Set bad actor goals, follow outcomes. There are bound to be seams of 'unexpected consequences' to be exploited, where what you see on the surface will have nothing directly to do with the social instability being sought by the background AI. It used to be called subliminal influence, but this will go into a whole new dimension.

  8. emfiliane

    TikTok is a smokescreen

    Take a look at the RESTRICT Act, which purports to ban it -- in reality it's basically the Patriot Act 2.0. Vast new land grabs of power, even more erosion of privacy and rights, while everyone squabbles over a fad app.

    If the US wanted to ban TikTok, all they would have to do is legislate a real personal privacy law with expensive teeth, EU-style. All the social media platforms would be caught up in that, but divest themselves of what they could to keep existing.

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: TikTok is a smokescreen

      "If the US wanted to ban TikTok, all they would have to do is legislate a real personal privacy law with expensive teeth, EU-style"

      They'd also have to enforce it, which is the part the EU and UK seem to be having a hard time with. As they rely on complaints to trigger investigations, most infractions pass beneath the radar. The only way to make it stick for sure would be to implement a statutory compliance monitoring function, which would likely fall foul of all sorts of legal tripwires. Some problems are not immediately soluble.

      1. OhForF' Silver badge

        As they rely on complaints to trigger investigations, most infractions pass beneath the radar.

        There are plenty of complaints that are ignored by those charged to enforce the privacy laws and there would be probably more if complaints would lead to results.

        What use is tracking the bandits on the radar when air defense command refuses to dispatch interceptors and civilian authorities don't even look into revoking the license of violators?

    2. thames

      Re: TikTok is a smokescreen

      I've just skimmed over the actual proposed legislation, and TikTok isn't even mentioned. What it is is a law to allow the US president to arbitrarily ban pretty much anything involved in communications if he doesn't happen to like it. The VPN industry are apparently particularity worried.

      Covered are:

      • Any software, hardware, or other product which connects to any LAN, WAN, or any other network.
      • Internet hosting services, cloud-based services, managed services, content delivery networks.
      • The following is a direct quote: "machine learning, predictive analytics, and data science products and services, including those involving the provision of services to assist a party utilize, manage, or maintain open-source software;"
      • Modems, home networking kit, Internet or network enabled sensors, web cams, etc.
      • Drones of any sort.
      • Desktop applications, mobile applications, games, payment systems, "web-based applications" (whatever those are interpreted to mean).
      • Anything related to AI, quantum cryptography or computing, "biotechnology", "autonomous systems", "e-commerce technology" (including on-line retail, internet enabled logistics, etc.).

      In other words, it covers pretty much everything in the "tech" business. Singling out TikTok in particular is nothing but a red herring meant to divert attention form what is actually going on.

      The bit covering "open source software" is particularly troublesome. People running open source projects may have to seriously think about moving their projects outside of US influence.

      1. Cliffwilliams44 Silver badge

        Re: TikTok is a smokescreen

        This is the digital equivalent of the "Enabling Act!"

      2. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

        Re: TikTok is a smokescreen

        Welcome to the land of the free. Your papers!

  9. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Twatter, Feckbook, TokTok and al. have all nefarious aspects. Banning one isn't the solution IMNSHO

    Is educating young (and less young) people to develop a critical mind such an impossible task?

    1. cmdrklarg

      That would require teaching critical thinking, and they can't have that. People who can critically think are harder to influence and control.

      1. LybsterRoy Silver badge


        If all schools taught critical thinking a lot of political correctness would vanish and maybe, just maybe people wouldn't believe computer models so much.

        Then again maybe they wouldn't be so influenced by adverts/influencers and we can't have that can we?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "It's all about who controls the information." - Whistler

    I'm not sure how free speech plays in this.

    Anyone criticizing data gathering anywhere for any reason is allowing an opportunity to criticize all of it everywhere. I'm have no idea which dumb ass at the C.I.A. and/or N.S.A. allowed US politicians to criticize data gathering but, I think they realize they will regret it.

    1. Claverhouse Silver badge

      Re: "It's all about who controls the information." - Whistler

  11. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "Nations are one by one banning it from government-owned devices"

    And ?

    Where is TikTok useful on a governmental level ? Are we also going to go into a tizzy about how governments are banning Angry Birds on their PCs ?

    Why is it sooo important to relay the fact that governmental institutions don't want TikTok on their hardware ? Are we also going to hear about how banks are banning TikTok ?

    Of course not, banks already have their hardware locked down.

    So the lesson is : governments don't know how to lock down their PCs.

    Am I supposed to be reassured by that ?

    1. thames

      Re: "Nations are one by one banning it from government-owned devices"

      If there are genuine security concerns then the only apps which should be present on government owned devices are those which have gone through an official security review and been approved as valid and necessary for the device user to perform his or her job.

      And for the 95 per cent of the world who aren't the US, Facebook, Twitter, and the like are equally as problematic as TikTok and for the same reasons.

      Putting out a blacklist is pointless, as anyone with any knowledge of the subject would know. Lots of apps rely on third party libraries which have data collection features built into them, it's part of their business model. This data is then sold to data brokers around the world with few or no controls over what is done with the data or who it is sold on to. There are so many apps in existence that blacklisting is an exercise in futility.

      Don't allow anything on government devices which has not gone through a security review and whose data is hosted outside of one's own country. The same rules should be applied to any business which handles matters which have security implications.

      I don't know of any business which allows individual users to install whatever they want on government owned PCs, so why should phones be any different?

      The same thinking should be applied to the OEM and carrier crapware that gets pre-loaded onto phones as well. There should be no pre-loaded apps beyond those which have been approved.

      1. LybsterRoy Silver badge

        Re: "Nations are one by one banning it from government-owned devices"

        Forget security - why would any business (commercial or government) allow time wasting software on devices used for work?

        -- I don't know of any business which allows individual users to install whatever they want on government owned PCs, so why should phones be any different? --

        I think I know what you mean but how do businesses decide what software is loaded onto government machines?

    2. LybsterRoy Silver badge

      Re: "Nations are one by one banning it from government-owned devices"

      If its a business machine, or a machine used for business, either commercial or governmental, why should it have software on it explicitly designed to stop you working on it?

    3. Steve Jackson

      Re: "Nations are one by one banning it from government-owned devices"

      But aren't MP's supposed to be just people (HoC at least) elected to serve us?

      AIUI they get expensed to provide their office, so I would think they would not be mandated to use Govt. owned devices? Or am I being too simplistic?

      If MPs were handed official HM Govt phones that were vetted and controlled, I don't think a lot of comms traffic would necessarily go through them? Or am I being too cynical? Not cynical enough? Naive? FTFY :)

      So it's a massive BYOD party?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Just the good ole USA scaremongering again, as it loses its status on the world stage, as yet another superior piece of tech overtakes the old, out of date stuff developed in the USA.

    Just like Huawei the USA is trying to kill whatever it doesn't make itself, and can install its own backdoors in to spy on users, all the time claiming the Chinese are the baddies.

    1. Nest2063

      What if both the Chinese and the Americans are the baddies?

      1. moonhaus

        "What if both the Chinese and the Americans are the baddies?"

        Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?

  13. breakfast Silver badge
    Big Brother

    The legislation seems problematic

    I've heard a few people saying the the "Ban Tiktok" act being put together in the US gives the state access to pretty much all your data from any device without need for a warrant or for the user to be informed. Accounts seem to concur that it is an enormous piece of legislative overreach that would give the US government powers ripe for misuse in ever direction - I feel like there might be an interesting story for the Reg to cover there.

    This is where I awkwardly learn that they've been leading with it on the front page for the last two weeks and I didn't notice...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The legislation seems problematic

      Nope - and I was wondering about that too.

  14. Tron Silver badge

    McCarthyism 2.0

    TikTok is not a national security problem. But the US/Five Eyes want their spyware on all the major services, especially social media, and they won't put their software on anything run by a Chinese company. So they will get media organisations like the BBC, who run scare stories about the net every day, to run even more, targeting TikTok, and eventually ban it.

    Censorship is bad, and this is the slippery slope, but there is one small benefit. A generation of young people may stop being politically apathetic, and develop a healthy hatred of their governments/politicians in general. Hopefully this time they will be more like French protestors and less like 60's hippies.

    Perhaps Facebook will release a TikTokalike short video feature, a US corporation taking market share from a non-US one, the USG having tilted the level playing field a tad.

    1. emfiliane

      Re: McCarthyism 2.0

      Facebook and Instagram have had "Reels" for over two years now, and they sucked hard at first (more like a Vine than a TikTok), but they're basically a complete clone of TikTok's whole format now.

    2. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

      Re: McCarthyism 2.0

      To be fair what possible value is any of the content of any social media platform ?

      All social media platforms are populated by fools...they arent building nuclear weapons or anything dangerous, the worst they can do is blow themselves but spy agencies dont care about small things like that.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It’s all a bit shit isn’t it

    This social media BS.

    But, idiots will be idiots.

  16. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

    Isnt the isolation of TikTok basically an admission of the same practices and problems with other social media platforms like Facebook etc ?

    If one is a problem why arent the others also the same problem for the same reasons ?

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