Tik Tik Tok — Time is Up; Let’s Talk Data Privacy
TikTok only launched in the United States in 2018 but has exploded in the wake of household quarantine boredom to more than 80 million daily users. The social media platform, which allows users to create, edit, and share mini videos, has created a new generation of dancing and lip-syncing “TikTok-famous” celebrities out of regular teens with smart phones and good lighting. Until recently, the app was of interest mostly to the young Gen-Z users but — as with any new kid on the block — is now stoking the attention and ire of the LA mayor, U.S.-based tech competitors, and the twitter-savvy president of the United States. Created by the Chinese tech company ByteDance and penetrating the U.S. market after the acquisition of Musical.ly, it has suddenly been caught in the trade and information wars between China and the U.S. ByteDance now has less than three months to divest from TikTok’s U.S. operation per executive order — with Microsoft in the lead for the spoils. Is this meme sharing app a trojan horse threatening our data privacy and U.S. national security?
For the uninitiated — TikTok seems like any other social media app; it has various visual and functional parallels to (the now defunct) Vine, Snapchat, and Instagram. What is unique about the platform is that the continuous “For You” feed of videos is not showing you the people, accounts, or organizations that you know or chose to follow, but rather an algorithmic feed based on content that you have unconsciously demonstrated you want to watch, no matter what you intentionally “like” or follow. In essence, the platform develops a custom psychological profile of what captures and holds your attention through your passive consuming of content, making it potently addictive.
ByteDance has a close relationship with the Chinese government and can be theoretically compelled to handover data stored on its platform (despite claims that U.S. data is not stored in Mainland China), raising concerns among privacy advocates as well as the U.S. administration. Nevertheless, data and national security experts explain that while TikTok does gather a vast amount of data, it is not necessarily any more invasive than apps such as Facebook. There are many large founts of personal data on Americans, including Facebook, Google, and Amazon. TikTok may have some obvious vulnerabilities given that it is a Chinese company which has successfully penetrated the U.S. market. But again, American companies have similar weaknesses — we’ve seen the malevolent use of Facebook by foreign governments already.
At the core of this issue is also the fact there is no national law in the United States managing, regulating, or protecting Americans’ data. Ironically, the EU, which has much stricter privacy laws regarding technology and data, has recently issued a ruling concerned about European citizens’ data falling into the hands of American companies. Data protection is not exclusively the concern of social media, but all sorts of industries as private information is collected in our increasingly digitized economy — from Digital Health to FinTech. While some physical aspects of ESG risk are less burdensome for digital companies, privacy and data protection continues be a growing priority in sustainability analysis, as companies must self-regulate until national standards are fully adopted.
Derek Brooks, VP Investments
TikTok sued the U.S. government on Monday, accusing the Trump administration of depriving it of due process when President Trump used his emergency economic powers to issue an executive order that will block the app from operating in the country.
Social media and phone addictions are hard to control. For those trying to implement JOMO (Joy of Missing Out), apps like Space offer personalized behavior change programs designed to help you think about how you use your phone and how it affects your life.
‘E Unibus Pluram’ is David Foster Wallace’s seminal 1993 paper about tv, fiction, and irony, in which he argues that television culture is permeated with irony, which causes disaffection and apathy. The article still holds truth as we move into the age of social media — becoming consumers of other peoples’ lives — ironically living less of our own.
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