TikTok came under fire this week after the company’s chief executive confirmed that China-based employees had access to US user information.
While Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew assured the United States that data viewed by the company’s engineers was not shared with Chinese government officials, Liberal Senator James Paterson was quick to ask for clarification to TikTok Australia executives Lee Hunter and Brent Thomas.
The senator shared TikTok’s response, tweeting, “TikTok Australia responded to my letter and admitted that Australian user data is also accessible in mainland China, putting it within the reach of the Chinese government, despite their previous assurances that they were safe because they were stored in the United States and Singapore.
So what does this mean for individual users, and why is everyone freaking out?
It can reach data beyond your last video download
When you sign up on social media platforms, they give a very vague statement asking for your permission to share data.
What some people might not realize is that these permissions go deeper than just sharing that data with other companies – they can also access data you’ve never shared on their app. .
“The deal with TikTok is that by using the service – which is controlled in China – whether you realize it or not, whether you accept it or now, you are disclosing a whole range of information about yourself,” said said Associate Professor at the University of Canberra School of Law, Dr Bruce Baer Arnold, told news.com.au.
“Things like location, login data, your calendar – basically you’re giving access to what’s on your device.”
TikTok is owned by Chinese
There’s no tiptoe that although TikTok’s access to data is the same as any other social media app or website, TikTok is a Chinese company, whereas most other most popular social media belongs to the United States.
“Yes, people are more concerned about TikTok because it’s owned by China, and that’s a legitimate response,” says Dr Arnold.
“The business and online rules in China are different from the rules in the United States. I think there are legitimate concerns about privacy laws in the United States, but concerns about what might happen in China are much more fundamental.
Why is it important?
Many young people who have grown up in the digital age and have always known that what we share online is not private. So we have always conducted our online lives as if many people were watching us.
The problem, however, besides the fact that not everyone is internet savvy, arises when individual data is aggregated collectively to potentially make decisions about that group.
“The real value in the world of big data is the collection of population-scale data,” Dr. Arnold explained. “When you put it together, you start to get some very, very commercially valuable datasets.”
“It could well lead people or algorithms to make decisions, in a non-transparent way, about people’s lives. On insurance, for example. About jobs, about health, in a way that’s not fair, but there’s nothing you can do about it.
What can you do?
As an expert in privacy and the law, Dr. Arnold says there’s not much you can do on an individual level, other than being very aware of what you share online and websites, applications and cookies to which you register.
However, he thinks individuals have a responsibility to start pressuring the government to make real changes to privacy laws that would protect us.
“An individual consumer going up against a multi-billion dollar corporation usually won’t work,” he said. “This is one of the reasons why we need smart, knowledgeable and well-resourced regulators to act on behalf of individuals.”
“If the ACCC faces, say, Facebook and says ‘you’re breaking Australian consumer protection laws, we’re going to fine you millions of dollars’ – that starts to be more effective.”
“If you are a citizen, it is your responsibility. Don’t wait for someone else to make the decisions, tell the government we want them to do something.
The national government actually has considerable power over telecommunications. It’s time for them to become much more militant in the online space.