Featured Opinion

Should you delete TikTok?

Since announcing itself to the world in 2016, TikTok has managed to capture a significant slice of the Social Media pie. The app’s soaring popularity has urged even Google to come up with a similar product — YouTube Shorts — but its release date remains under the wraps.

TikTok works on the simple policy of “democratizing the internet” and has been largely successful in this regard. The platform has allowed “outcasts” — who don’t live Instagrammable lives — to find their voice and stand out. The content hasn’t always been up to the mark, but its purpose has never been serving quality content; it’s been to make social media stardom accessible.

Unfortunately for TikTokers around the globe, the app has had a tough time evading criticism over the last few months. The Chinese app has come under fire for compromising the security, privacy, and integrity of its users. The second-most populated country in the world, India, has even gone ahead and banned the app — along with 58 other China-made apps — claiming that it posed a serious threat to the sovereignty of the country.

The United States is yet to take such a drastic stance, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility. So, today, we’ll take a look at the allegations against TikTok and help you decide whether you should hit that ‘Uninstall’ button.

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What is wrong with TikTok?

In this age of technology, security and privacy are the two most important aspects for each one of us. And TikTok, as per claims, doesn’t fare well on either front. As is always the case, the suits over at TikTok squashed the claims, insisting the app is more than determined to protect its users.

However, even if we keep the government interventions aside, there have been multiple instances where real users were able to point to the gaping holes in TikTok’s privacy policies.

Drafts leak

In June, a female TikToker — username: ~its.journi~ — saw a video leaked from her Drafts folder. The video started circulating on TikTokers’ ‘For You Page’ under the username “@.” There was no link to the original poster’s (OP) account and any click on the “@” reverted the clicker to their own TikTok profile.

The creator of the video didn’t get notified by the app that her video got published and none of the views or likes got logged into her account.

TikTok is yet to address the issue.

Deep-rooted privacy concerns reported

A couple of months ago, Reddit user, tobrown05, took it upon himself to reverse engineer the famous app and see how it actually worked. On his detailed Reddit post, the user claimed that TikTok is “a data collection service that is thinly-veiled as a social network.”

From IP address and MAC ID to unauthorized location details and other app usages — the Redditor explained that the app collected every type of data available. He also added that it was almost impossible to stop the services individually, as they were deeply-rooted in the software.

Other issues and biases

As we mentioned, the primary aim of TikTok was to democratize the internet. However, deep within, TikTok itself hasn’t managed to distance itself from most of its competitors. Yes, it’s super easy to make yourself popular on the platform, but that doesn’t make it unbiased.

In March, The Intercept managed to get its hand on a document, which exposed the biases rooted in the “people’s app.” The Chinese short-video sharing app, which has clocked over a billion downloads since breaking into the scene, apparently instructed its moderators to suppress the videos of poor, ugly, overweight, and differently-abled people, keeping them from attaining the fame they deserved. The document also showed that the moderators were required to guard China’s national honor and censor everything that threatened to tarnish it, even during live streams.

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What is the US government saying?

As mentioned, India, which is the largest foreign market for TikTok, has already decided to ban the app from Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store. The government of India made the verdict official on June 29th, 2020, and subsequently sent messages to Google and Apple to take the app down from their respective stores. The government also asked all Internet Service Providers to block data transmissions, which alone is enough to cripple the service.

The Donald Trump-led United States hasn’t yet taken such a measure, but the app is surely on thin ice at the moment. In March 2020, Senator Josh Hawley demonstrated the app’s ties with the Chinese government and highlighted the implication it might have on national security.

He also vouched to introduce legislation that would force all federal employees to uninstall TikTok from their mobile device. During his briefing, he also mentioned that the Pentagon, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, and TSA had all banned the app. The US Navy was one of the first departments to address the security concerns related to TikTok and banned it from all government-issues devices in December 2019.

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Will TikTok get banned in the US as well?

After India’s decision to ban 59 Chinese apps on Monday, TikTokers across the States have started to monitor the situation closely. Conservatives, who have been vocal about the app’s ulterior motives since the beginning, have once again started to emerge, asking the United States to take a similarly drastic measure.

Influential republicans Senator John Cornyn and Congressman Rick Crawford, Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham, and Author Gordon Chang have all urged the United States to reevaluate and give TikTok the treatment it deserves.

Recently, Apple’s iOS 14 beta also demonstrated TikTok’s knack for reading the copied content on users’ clipboard, which is, without a doubt, one of the app’s most invasive practices.

Whether the US decides to ban the app remains to be seen, but there are plenty of complaints against the app many of us love and adore.

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Should you delete TikTok or keep it?

Going through all the sections above, you should already have a clear idea of what your next steps should be. However, if you’re still not sure what to do, we will do our best to make the decision as straightforward as possible.

TikTok isn’t the most transparent app in the world. It doesn’t give you a clear understanding of the type of data it’s mining or where it’s using it. The app is also required to report to Beijing regularly, and we’ll never know the type of data it’s sharing. It also isn’t the most secure platform out there, so chances are some or all your data is being compromised.

And while none of the things we discussed is reassuring, it’s also true that most of our data isn’t that valuable to anyone. They’ll probably know your political inclinations, your monthly income, or your spending trends, which could lead to detailed targeted advertising or worse. If you’re willing to live with the possible consequences and give TikTok a benefit of the doubt, you shouldn’t go through the hassle of uninstalling it. However, if you’re someone who values their privacy and believes in transparency, getting rid of TikTok is most definitely the correct course of action.

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Sushan

A mediocre engineer hoping to do something extraordinary with his pen (well, keyboard). Loves Pink Floyd, lives football, and is always up for a cup of Americano.