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TikTok faces data security challenges amid global scrutiny | FT Tech

TikTok, the popular video-sharing app, has been fined €345 million by the European Commission for breaching the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on children’s data. The app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has also been banned from official devices in more than a dozen countries, including India, the US, and Australia, over national security and data privacy concerns. The FT’s Cristina Criddle examines why TikTok and its Chinese owner present a dilemma for many governments and regulators.

TikTok’s data collection practices under fire

TikTok has been accused of collecting excessive amounts of personal data from its users, especially children and teenagers, without obtaining their consent or informing them of how their data is used. According to the EU’s investigation, TikTok failed to implement adequate safeguards to protect the data of minors, such as age verification mechanisms, parental consent tools, and privacy settings. The app also exposed children to inappropriate content and advertising, such as gambling, alcohol, and drugs.

The EU’s fine is the largest ever imposed on a company for violating the GDPR, which came into force in 2018 and requires companies to obtain explicit consent from users before processing their data. The fine also reflects the app’s massive user base in Europe, where it has more than 100 million active users. TikTok said it was “disappointed” by the decision and that it had taken steps to improve its data protection practices, such as launching a separate app for younger users called TikTok for Younger Users.

TikTok faces data security challenges amid global scrutiny | FT Tech

TikTok’s ties to China raise national security fears

TikTok’s Chinese ownership has also raised suspicions among some governments that the app could be used as a tool for espionage or influence by Beijing. The app has been banned in India since June 2020, after a border clash between Indian and Chinese troops. The Indian government said the app posed a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the country and accused it of sending user data to servers in China.

The US government has also attempted to ban TikTok or force it to sell its US operations to an American company, citing national security risks. Former President Donald Trump issued an executive order in August 2020 that would have prohibited US transactions with TikTok and ByteDance, but the order was blocked by several court rulings. The current administration of President Joe Biden has suspended the order and launched a review of the app’s potential risks.

Australia has also banned TikTok from government devices and launched an inquiry into the app’s data security practices. The Australian government said it was concerned about the app’s access to user data, such as location, contacts, and biometric information. The government also said it was worried about the app’s content moderation policies and its potential to spread misinformation or propaganda.

TikTok’s popularity and innovation challenge regulators

Despite the regulatory challenges and controversies, TikTok remains one of the most popular and influential social media platforms in the world. The app has more than 1 billion monthly active users globally and is known for its viral videos, creative features, and diverse community. The app has also been praised for its innovation and ability to adapt to different markets and cultures.

TikTok’s success poses a challenge for regulators who have to balance the interests of consumers, competitors, and national security. Some experts argue that banning or restricting TikTok could stifle innovation and competition in the digital sector, as well as limit the freedom of expression and choice of users. Others contend that TikTok should be held accountable for its data collection practices and its compliance with local laws and regulations.

TikTok has said that it is committed to working with regulators and stakeholders to address their concerns and ensure the safety and privacy of its users. The company has also said that it operates independently from ByteDance and that it does not share user data with any foreign government, including China.

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