If you use social media, you undoubtedly find yourself wasting away hours of your life looped into endless streams of content. The algorithms are ever evolving to keep you hooked on a steady flow of content tailored to your interests. TikTok has exploded onto the social media scene in the past few years becoming one of the most popular platforms, but not without controversy.
TikTok has been controversial due to privacy concerns. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company, ByteDance, which is heavily tied to the Chinese Communist Party. The CCP has a small stake in one of ByteDance’s subsidiaries. There have been multiple concerns over TikTok’s privacy with user data being stolen and users being essentially spied on. The United States government has an agreement with TikTok to change how their data is stored and who has access to the data. The agreement would give the American company Oracle the responsibility of storing users’ data in their servers. Oracle specializes in Cloud engineering and database management.
This deal would limit TikTok’s access to user data over fears of the company giving information to the CCP. The deal also limits which employees at TikTok can access user data. There are lawmakers who are considering banning TikTok from users in America due to security concerns, if banned users would flood to other platforms that have already copied TikTok’s style of algorithm. If you use Meta, Instagram, Snapchat, or Youtube you’ll notice Reel sections, which are a way to share short-form video similar to TikTok. Reels are oftentimes the same content as TikTok, just reposted on another platform. The nature of TikTok is a constant stream of short videos, showing the next video immediately following the first. The feed of content is lightning fast and consumes users’ attention.
TikTok has an average of over a billion monthly users. TikTok users are 60% Gen Z and users spend on average 95 minutes per day on the platform. With users spending so much time on the app, it gives the app access to an incredible amount of data. Hidden in TikTok’s terms and conditions is the ability to collect biometric data. TikTok is collecting data on people’s faces and voices. During a Senate hearing a TikTok representative dodged a question on the use of biometric data and claimed the data was stored locally and only collected for video effects. The Chinese government is infamous for their invasive surveillance of their citizens relying on biometric data to track citizens. China has large data centers storing biometric data on billions of people, making TikToks’ collection of data and ties to the authoritarian country even more alarming.
While it’s frightening to think about your data being stolen by a foreign nation, it’s hypocritical of America. All of our social media platforms have access to the same information and work with the government to supply them with data. Facebook recently changed their name to Meta to focus on a virtual world, and to avoid legal issues. Last year a whistleblower from Facebook testified before the U.S. Congress claimed Facebook knew it was harming its users’ mental health with their algorithms. Facebook soon changed their name to Meta; the rebranding effort was simultaneously happening during their hearings. While the Metaverse has yet to catch on, Meta is one of the most powerful companies in the world.
If TikTok is banned, Meta would become the biggest beneficiary of the ban as they already have a strong hold on the social media market. Meta isn’t much better than TikTok when it comes to ethics. The American platforms ironically work closely with the government, similarly to their criticisms of TikTok.
This isn’t a new concept as nearly a decade ago Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on the American people. The NSA was recording phone calls, texts, emails, and every form of Internet communication you can think of. Snowden has been in hiding ever since the leak as he’s wanted for the crime of revealing government secrets to the public.
Government interference with social media extends even further as Elon Musk has been releasing the Twitter Files. Journalists have been working with Musk to release internal Twitter documents showing Twitter’s supposed influence on the 2020 election, censoring of information, and working with a sitting representative in California. One of the main stories censored leading up to the election was the Hunter Biden laptop story, where Hunter’s personal laptop full of private information was leaked to the public. It’s understandable why Joe Biden’s team would contact Twitter looking to limit the story’s circulation; however, there were a lot of government documents on the laptop that were leaked. While Musk and others cry out that the laptop story could’ve swayed the results of the election, there’s not much weight to that argument.
What is concerning is the two year gap in the laptop story leaking and it finally being confirmed as factually accurate by media outlets. The Twitter files are further proof of government involvement in censorship and data collection on social media users. The U.S. fearmongers over the CCP’s relationship with Tiktok, while the United States is blatantly guilty of the same with our own social media companies.
Living in the Information Age, we’re witnessing data become a commodity. While social media can be an important tool, the tradeoff is mass surveillance of the public hidden within terms and conditions. Whether it be the CCP, the American government, or the social media companies, we’re being spied on constantly. Privacy was a privilege, never a right. We lost our privacy without ever knowing. The machine is too powerful; the genie is already out of the bottle and all generations are hooked on the technology with intelligent algorithms sucking users in. The majority of Gen Z’s life is online and that’ll never change; it’s intertwined into every aspect of our lives. All of our data is collected and stored as the surveillance state grows more invasive. There is hope for a more secure future because Gen Z and Millennials grew up in this new era of technology. Future lawmakers will have a better grasp of how these platforms collect and manage data. Maybe someday we’ll regain our privacy privileges.