TikTok’s sale to US-based company may alleviate security concerns: tech expert

HOUSTON, Aug 7: The uncertain future facing the popular Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok and its potential sale to a US-based company could alleviate national security concerns about access to American user data, according to a tech expert.
Mike Horning, an associate professor of multimedia journalism in the Virginia Tech School of Communication, said the growth of TikTok has raised concerns among security experts because it uses a powerful algorithm that customises content to users based on a number of user characteristics.
His remarks came days after technology giant Microsoft said it will continue talks to purchase TikTok’s American business following a conversation between its India-born CEO Satya Nadella and President Donald Trump.
The statement from the Redmond-headquartered Microsoft came after Trump said that he could use the emergency economic powers or an executive order to ban TikTok in the US over national security issues.
“The app has gained attention because it uses a powerful algorithm that customises content to users based on a number of user characteristics. This algorithm collects such sophisticated data about users that the data is attractive to both corporations and governments,”Horning said.
“However, the company has not been very transparent about who it sells your data to. Analyses of their data capturing methods have shown that personal data could be shared with hundreds of other companies,” he said.
Horning said that because the app is located in China, its data sharing practices are susceptible to Chinese law which requires that data be made available to Chinese officials, raising security concerns.
“The sale of the app to an American-based company could alleviate concerns that American data is being shared with foreign powers that are not always working in our mutual interests. An acquisition by Microsoft would provide another asset to the company which has been making investments in some social networks such as LinkedIn. It would also have the potential for lawmakers to provide certain restrictions on data sharing and collection practices in the future,” said Horning, director of social informatics research in the Center for Human Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech.
His research examines how communication technologies impact social attitudes and behaviours, with a current focus on the impact of “fake news” and misinformation in democratic processes.
India has banned as many as 106 Chinese apps, including TikTok, a move welcomed by both the Trump administration and the US lawmakers.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently said TikTok cannot stay in the current format in the US as it “risks sending back information on 100 million Americans”.
In recent weeks, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has accused TikTok of collecting personal information of Americans.
TikTok has previously stressed that its US user data is already stored on US-based servers and backed up in Singapore, and is therefore not subject to Chinese law as some US officials have feared. (PTI)