TikTok’s Transparency Report Does Not Make Sense

Amid greater scrutiny of its star app TikTok, ByteDance have released what it calls a “transparency” report. This is troubling for a number of reasons.

TikTok claims zero takedown requests from China in its first transparency report. TikTok’s report shows that the US and India were most active in both content removal requests and in requesting information about users.

TikTok is Not an Independent App

We all know Chinese tech firms must comply with the Chinese Government on all matters pertaining to censorship, data collection and so forth. TikTok is simply a rebranding of Douyin, the most popular app of ByteDance, a highly valued and Softbank Vision Fund backed AI startup from Beijing.

TikTok is behaving as if it could “shed” its Chinese roots. However, that’s not actually possible. Even the US army has banned TikTok on the phones of military personnel. Allegations of facial recognition and data harvesting in a lawsuit by a California student also raises many questions.

TikTok released its first transparency report on December 30th, 2019, showing which countries have submitted requests for content removal as well as access to user data. China is notably absent from the report . The likely reason for this is China already has total access to all of the data collected.

China’s social credit system requires that all data be centralized about individuals and their predictive analytics profiles, which TikTok is a part of.

TikTok even has a deep fake product that they have yet to release. This is a highly innovative company with an AI specialty with an incredible ability to create and market consumer apps.

TikTok is Pretending its Not a Beijing Company

TikTok is borrowing a few pages from a playbook now standard at many American tech giants, in an effort to earn the trust of US users and lawmakers. But TikTok isn’t Facebook. China’s total access to the data of its own tech companies isn’t a secret.

TikTok claimed the Chinese government did not make any content removal or information requests for the first half of 2019. It said the US submitted 85 requests. But in reality, the Chinese Government would not have to make requests, it would simply have ALL the data from TikTok’s users of any country.

“To foster candid dialogue essential to earning and maintaining trust, we’re releasing our first Transparency Report this year to show how we responsibly engage with government bodies in the markets where TikTok operates,” Eric Ebenstein, TikTok’s director of public policy, wrote in a blog post. In 2020, it’s impossible to “trust” a company or an app made in Beijing.

TikTok is owned by a Chinese parent firm, ByteDance, and has been accused of censoring content that would irk the Chinese government. This has shown to be the case by former employees and various investigations in late 2019.

TikTok is Already Considered a National Security Risk by US Army

The US Army has barred its soldiers from using TikTok following mounting fears from US lawmakers that the Chinese tech company could pose a national security threat. TikTok is flirting with a ban in the United States, just as it took the U.S. way too many years to ban Huawei for national security reasons.

A spokeswoman told Military.com that the US Army had come to consider TikTok a “cyberthreat” and that “we do not allow it on government phones.” The US Navy took a similar decision to bar the app from government phones last month. With pressure from Congress, TikTok might not have a great future in the U.S. considering the current trade war climate.

India is home to 120 million TikTok users in 2020. In September 2019 , a report from The Washington Post suggested TikTok was censoring content related to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, likely to appease the Chinese government. TikTok exploded in popularity in 2019 but made a number of mistakes in how it was set up that mean the U.S. may try to curtail its growth in the West.

In the transparency report, The US submitted the second-highest number of overall requests, beat out only by India, which submitted 107 requests for user data and 11 requests for content takedowns. I’m not sure how this is going to help the global trust of this app.

Transparency reports from major social platforms have become more common in recent years as these companies seek to rebuild or preserve trust among an increasingly wary public. Headlines around TikTok have been decidedly suspicious and negative of late, and TikTok is righting a PR and reputation management war. That they are behaving as if they are not an AI or a Beijing company is a bit absurd.

TikTok is a place for creativity and expression. But it could also be a Chinese app designed for facial recognition data harvesting and profiling of global youth for an agenda that we do not yet understand by the Chinese Government. If data is the new oil, may the most data win.

TikTok is owned by the Chinese tech company ByteDance, and its links to Beijing have prompted intense scrutiny from US politicians as the app’s popularity has skyrocketed. Code in both TikTok and its Chinese sister app Douyin asks users to take a multi-angle biometric scan of their face, then choose from a selection of videos they want to add their face to and share. Here we are talking about an app with significant AI, deep fake and facial recognition data capture, which we do not yet fully understand.

China’s Reputation on Biometric Data Capture is Already Scary

ByteDance now possesses sensitive biometric data which the Chinese Government likely has 100% access to, churning profiles about individuals all over the world and as they grow up from teens into adults will have significant data on them, even as foreign nationals.

What Google and Facebook started with data harvesting and surveillance capitalism, companies like Huawei, ByteDance, Alibaba, Xiaomi and Ant Financial will continue. The difference is, these Chinese companies have a central database of profiles controlled by the Chinese Government.

China’s social credit system means data harvesting is now actively weaponized in controlled systems which the U.S. does not have but may end up copying as powerful Western tech companies realize they must copy or become obsolete.

In China, there’s no real separation from business and state affairs. China’s use of facial recognition technology already violates human rights norms in Western China.

China’s use of AI could culminate in global state surveillance normalization. It’s highly doubtful the U.S. would be able to prevent this, as it unfolds by China’s increasing global influence in places like India, with Xiaomi and ByteDance. It’s been shown (by the WSJ) China enabled $75 billion for Huawei’s global growth for much the same purpose, global control.

The probability that ByteDance is not state-funded is very low. If you are state-funded it means you have agreed to be totally subservient to Government goals. In truth, all AI companies in China have likely already made those agreements in exchange for additional funding and state-sponsored AI-supremacy plans of China vs. the world.

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