In recent years, TikTok has become a global sensation, with millions of users creating and sharing short-form videos on the platform. However, as the app’s popularity has grown, so too have concerns about its privacy and security. With reports of data breaches and potential links to the Chinese government, many are questioning whether TikTok is more than just a harmless entertainment app, but rather an intelligence gathering tool for foreign powers. In this article, we’ll explore the evidence behind these claims and examine the potential risks associated with using TikTok.
Technology advancements have fueled previously unheard-of social and economic growth. However, advanced technology development has also been a part of the fourth industrial revolution. It is causing disruption, new points of vulnerability, and adverse side effects that still need to be fully understood, much less managed. Cybersecurity is a challenge in a digitalized society as global threats increase. Rising dangers include identity theft and fraud, cyberattacks, and intrusions of vital infrastructure, electrical networks, and financial markets. Our lives are now more than ever dominated by communication technologies. It offers countless advantages but also new risks. For instance, the phenomenon of fake news is similar. But digital technology, which has led to the multiplication of information outlets and the growth of social media, is primarily to blame for its pervasiveness today.
The Rise of TikTok
Zhang Yiming created Musical.ly in September 2016, and in November 2017, Beijing’s Bytedance Technology purchased the app musical.ly and changed the name to TikTok. This app quickly rose to the top spot among Chinese-developed apps in worldwide distribution. 800 million monthly users were reported as on November 2020, while 738 million first-time installs were anticipated in 2019.
It is also essential to comprehend why people use TikTok and related subjects. Such comprehension is also necessary in light of recent research findings that TikTok is an effective medium for educating young people about such issues as their health, government information releases, political debates, travel-related information, live online sales, and even educational material. Even video posts have been examined in a radiology-related academic publication.
What Makes TikTok so Compelling?
First off, unlike other social media, the app’s algorithm offers material to users based on their behavior and data signals rather than on who they choose to follow. This implies that users can skip any other accounts to view a personalized feed of videos based on their interests and behavior each time they log in. Most of the app’s content is short-form video, with the typical video lasting between 21 and 34 seconds and offering regular bursts of excitement. The software also automatically starts playing the following video, so users are repeatedly “pushed” to watch one video after another.
Is TikTok a Terrifying App?
It is no surprise that TikTok, the immensely well-liked entertainment app, has generated some controversy. If you’ve ever used TikTok, you know that it’s a platform for quick, amateur videos, typically featuring young adults lip-syncing to songs or imitating their favorite memes, along with the typical dog and cat videos that are all over the internet.
Can you guess the minimum age to access TikTok? It is just 13 years!! However parents of young teens can take solace in the fact that at least the minimum age to send direct messages to other users may be 16 years.
What claims have been made against TikTok? There are mainly four charges put up against TikTok:
- The personal information TikTok obtains when registering an account can be (mis)used by the Chinese state.
- Downloading the app provides you access to Chinese malware.
- TikTok is a platform for Chinese influence operations.
- Chinese intelligence services use TikTok to gather vital information.
It’s excellent that Chinese spying and cybersecurity are now important public debate points still; occasionally, it feels more like a robotic repetition of accusations without regard to likelihood rather than thoughtful analysis. If you’ve watched TikTok, you could find it addictive, but there isn’t anything insightful. If the Chinese intelligence agencies were compelled to look for intelligence value in 15-second films of kids lip-syncing, they would be in a terrible position.
TikTok as an OSINT (Open Source Intelligence) Tool
Since most TikTok users are members of Gen Z, who make up the largest generation on the planet right now, they frequently post pictures and videos of what they do and see on social media. Over 83% of all users of the app have created and shared videos on TikTok, making it possible for anyone to become a content creator. The platform is a wealth of data from the OSINT point of view. OSINT ensures that users constantly obtain the most accurate and trustworthy information accessibly.
TikTok and Russia- Ukraine War
Since the Russia-Ukraine battle, which is being called the “first TikTok war,” social media has been crucial in helping millions of people stay aware of their surroundings. While social media has long been a place for conflict and unrest to play out, new capabilities like live streaming and the fact that over 61% of Ukrainians own smartphones make it easier than ever to get first-hand accounts of what is happening on the front lines.
Even before the invasion, TikTok was part of a more significant effort to monitor the army buildup near the Ukrainian border, which regular Ukrainian residents shared. Videos on TikTok with the hashtag “#Ukraine” had amassed more than 26.8 billion views as of March 9th, 2022, less than two weeks after the war started. On TikTok, more than any other platform, the conflict had the highest level of engagement with the content.
The Negative Aspect For OSINT Investors
The inability to precisely geolocate videos is one of the problems with using TikTok for intelligence gathering. However, there are still ways for analysts to figure out where the video was shot without location tagging. First, you can narrow your search by looking at the hashtags used in the video title, which occasionally contain identifying information like a city, town, or region. You can find more information by simply reading the comments; there might be other people who are familiar with the location and have left comments on the video.
TikTok as a Source of Information
The Wall Street Journal reports that 40% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 now use TikTok to look for information, which is concerning considering the app’s illustrious history as a disinformation factory. The audience of TikTok is attracted by the fact that anyone may become popular on the app, regardless of the number of followers; therefore, users are encouraged to keep their accounts public. This indicates that there is a tonne of publicly accessible content; still, people continue tremendous favor the usage of pseudonyms, especially when posting about current events like the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
“The Web as I envisaged it, we have not seen it yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past.”
– Tim Berners-Lee, Inventor of the World Wide Web.
Despite the controversies surrounding the platform, security professionals who disregard TikTok as a significant OSINT source run the danger of failing to detect severe risks to their personnel, property, and reputation. Everything depends on the user’s proper intervention in the application usage that comes into question.