I Prayed have prayed
Lord, please give leaders in Washington and Silicon Valley wisdom and courage in facing questions about TikTok and the authoritarian regime in China. And may we be mindful of the access social media has in our lives.

Analysis. A leading U.S. communications official is wary of TikTok’s “sheep’s clothing.” And he’s calling on Apple and Google to remove the popular app from their ubiquitous app stores.

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Known for funny dance and other short-form videos, TikTok is often associated with Gen Z young people, which has been a major base for its stunning growth. In fact, in the U.S. more Gen Z-ers use TikTok than even Instagram and roughly half its American users are younger than 30.

But TikTok is now reaching a broader audience as it explodes in popularity. It was the most downloaded app in 2021 at 656 million downloads and has more than a billion monthly active users worldwide, including roughly 80 million in the U.S.. Those individuals are willing to spend hours on the platform, as one recent study showed with Android users on TikTok an average of 19.6 hours per month. That tied Facebook’s use in that study and was second only to YouTube’s 23.7 hours per month.

TikTok’s meteoric rise has not been without controversy, however. It was launched in 2017 as an international version of a very similar app called Douyin in China and it remains owned by Beijing-based ByteDance. That Chinese connection has many observers wary of how the Chinese government may be using the app for intelligence purposes.

Brendan Carr, a Republican commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission, noted in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai that TikTok collects huge amounts of data about American users and its owner is “beholden to the Communist Party of China.”

TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or memes. That’s the sheep’s clothing,” Carr wrote. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data.”

Carr goes on to note that such data can include draft messages, text, images, and videos stored on the app, as well as location information. But that’s not all. TikTok can glean information from search and browsing histories, keystroke patterns, and even biometrics like voice and faceprints. That last item could be particularly useful in facial recognition technology, which China is adept at utilizing for authoritarian purposes.

While TikTok has for years attempted to offer assurances about its privacy and content moderation practices, reporting suggests that individuals in China may well have access to its data. A recent in-depth BuzzFeed article quotes a member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department saying, “Everything is seen in China.” Another TikTok official reportedly said a Beijing-based engineer is a “Master Admin” with “access to everything.” Moreover, the article reports data experts wary of backdoors in the app’s tools, as well as there being “items within the tools that nobody knows what they’re for.”

The BuzzFeed reporter notes that one concern here is with data espionage — TikTok’s owner handing over sensitive information to the Chinese government. But another could be a soft power move by China to influence TikTok’s algorithm for what videos do or do not get suggested to its billion-plus users as being of interest to watch. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in 2020 compared this to “a Trojan horse the Chinese Communist Party can use to influence to what Americans, see, hear, and ultimately think.”

Like Commissioner Carr, legislators have been stirred by this recent BuzzFeed report. One group led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is asking the Biden administration what it is doing about national security concerns related to TikTok, particularly after Biden rescinded one court-stalled Trump executive order aimed at essentially banning TikTok but left another in place directing Bytedance to divest its American assets and data. Another group led by U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) wants answers about the Beijing access points to U.S. user data from TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew, especially since the company seemed to give assurances to the contrary last year.

For his part, Carr wants Apple and Google to remove the TikTok app from their app stores or to explain why the “surreptitious access of private and sensitive U.S. user data by persons located in Beijing” does not violate their app store policies.

Will you pray for wisdom for leaders in Washington and Silicon Valley as they navigate these questions about TikTok and China? And may we mindful about the access social media has in our daily lives.

Aaron Mercer is a Contributing Writer with two decades of experience in Washington, D.C.s public policy arena. Photo Credit: Solen Feyissa on Unsplash.

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Elder Jean Bonds
July 4, 2022

I Prayed

Yvonne Pendleton
July 3, 2022

Why can this not be blocked with all the technology we have. Pray this is so.

3
Barbara Ann Bush
July 2, 2022

Google and Amazon are doing exactly what Tik Tok is doing as surveillance and garnering personal data for all sorts of purposes – some military. Asking them to stop seems very odd? This is part of the Propaganda Act passed Dec 2016, signed by Obama right before he left office Jan, 2017.

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Karen Secrest
July 2, 2022

President Trump said very emphatically this media is a National Security Risk to this country. That has not changed. We spe as k the Word that this evil is defeated
India has already outlawed it. May we follow cutting off that enemy in our very living room.

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Yvette King
July 2, 2022

I was made aware of TikTok’s deception about two years ago. I shared with many the video by AoC (Ambassadors of Christ); Dark Agenda Exposed, “Is TikTok Banning Christians” and “What Every Parent Must Know About TikTok that is viewed on Facebook. President Trump tried to banned TikTok. This Warrior of the Lord Jesus Christ Yeshua Messiah is standing in the gap. Praise the Most God who is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above all we ask or think

Hallelujah Amen❣️

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Joseph Blanton
July 2, 2022

This news is nothing new. It is mind-boggling to think that after all the warnings people still use Tik-Tok. Why?

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Barbara Janicki
July 2, 2022

The “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is a well fitting analogy for TikTok – aimed at younger users and for seemingly harmless use of making videos for entertainment – the larger context of possibilities for sinister uses is lost or ignored. Prayers that we would heed the warnings of those sounding the alarm now, before more damage is done and it is too late. Looking at how China treats its own citizens should be the only red flag needed because it is such a big one. http://www.mtothe5th.wordpress.com

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Elizabeth
July 2, 2022

Since each country has its own boundaries, and is its own nation, why would people use an APP no matter how cute, or fun, when the use of that APP puts ones own country in danger? Deception is so often glossed over to look good, but inside it is rotten.

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