Browsing all articles tagged with Government
TikTok

Let’s get this out of the way first – like many grown adults, I don’t use TikTok. I’m obviously pretty much “aged out” of the appeal for it – but that’s besides the point. If you don’t care about what I’m about to say because it doesn’t affect you – you’re missing the big picture. That’s like saying you don’t care about racism because you’re not black.

You need to care if government decides to ban any software, whatever its origin.

TikTok, made in China, by Chinese Engineers, is indeed a sneaky app. And that’s why I installed it on a sandboxed, isolated phone, something few people would ever do. TikTok is indeed full of surreptitious motives and questionable data gathering. This post last week by Richie Koch of Proton Technologies outlines exactly why this is so and is a very informative read.

This isn’t about what software you should or shouldn’t run. It’s about government telling you what software you can or cannot run. As a computer scientist, I recommend you do not run TikTok for the reasons stated in Koch’s analysis. That’s a recommendation – not a government edict issued by a want-to-be dictator. The difference is not subtle.

The only reason this app is under scrutiny is because it’s become wildly popular. Apps and desktop software have had spyware, malware, and other nefarious methods embedded in them for decades. This is nothing new. The onus has been on Apple, Google, Microsoft and other companies to try and educate, warn, and in some cases block apps or services that they choose to – but they’re not government. It has been and it should remain that each of us, as sovereign individuals be able to freely choose what we do or do not do on our own computers and phones. We do not need or want the government telling us what we can or cannot run.

When Americans visit China, Iran, and many other countries they find they cannot use Facebook, Google, YouTube, and more. Why not? Because authoritarian governments prohibit it. That’s not OK there and it’s not OK here, in the “land of the free”. How is the U.S. banning TikTok any different?

I’ve said it before – uncensored Internet is a human right. And that means we can run whatever software we please – spyware or not. The onus is on ourselves and industry to stay informed and make decisions. Some people don’t run Amazon Echo in their home because they don’t trust Amazon. That’s their choice. I don’t think people would be too pleased if our government decided to “ban” the Amazon Echo from existing.

It’s up to individuals to understand what’s happening on their phones and computers. It’s also up to operating system vendors – Google, Apple, Microsoft, etc. to provide warnings – which they already do. They, along with anti-virus / anti-malware vendors have been doing it for decades. We need to pay attention and understand – we are trusting the operating system and application developers every time we install a piece of software we cannot analyze ourselves. I’m not saying that’s always a good idea, I’m saying that’s our choice, our risk, our privacy threshold for us to decide – not government.

Reading lengthy terms-of-service agreements and understanding data and networks is not practical for most people. And it shouldn’t have to be. Computers and phones and the complexities behind them are becoming more and more invisible as they become easier to use, and that’s a good thing. But that’s why we trust independent security auditors to look at software and make recommendations, and we can quickly check app ratings and reviews and make our own decisions. Well you say, how does that stop my teenager from installing TikTok? Well – it doesn’t. Guess what – it also doesn’t stop your teenager from installing Snapchat, from a U.S. company. When you choose to provide location data and submit any user generated content (UGC) you are already giving up privacy with every post. Privacy is only as good as what you’re willing to NOT put on the Internet – whatever the vehicle is. TikTok is no different – other than it’s from China.

In TikTok’s case, the primary concern is that the Chinese government can compel the parent company ByteDance to provide unrestricted access to data. Well, in the U.S. it’s a bit harder, but is it really? The U.S. Government is constantly, on a daily basis, submitting requests for data from every technology company with more than a few thousand users, and companies usually provide it out of fear of authority.

As of this writing, President Trump suggested that he will “ban” TikTok by Executive Order. Whether he succeeds with that or via an act of Congress is to be determined. There’s also some well substantiated rumors floating that Microsoft will acquire TikTok. I imagine their first move would be to isolate all the U.S. based accounts into Microsoft Azure data centers, where they have control over it, and the U.S. Government will suddenly have jurisdiction to all of that juicy UGC, instead of China. I actually hope this happens because I think Microsoft would be a great place to help TikTok thrive and grow as the entertaining juggernaut it has quickly become. It would be incredibly strong brand building block for Microsoft too, because other than XBox, Microsoft doesn’t have the brand awareness that a massively popular mobile-based product or service Facebook (Instagram, WhatsApp), Google (Android), Apple (iPhone) does. Acquiring TikTok and branding it “Microsoft TikTok” will change that instantly, establishing the Microsoft brand in the minds of the younger generation.

Back to basics of government overreach – succeeding in “banning” a popular app makes our government no different than that of the other countries mentioned earlier, and compromises our individual liberties. It also puts a burden on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and App Repositories (Apple App Store, Google Play) to suddenly have to comply with various “orders” from Government on what apps and traffic is permitted. How is this different from the Chinese Firewall?

This opens a Pandora’s Box to government claws, and I hope our Constitution and our court system are able to fight this challenge to our societal liberties. If not, the U.S. government will be no different than those of authoritarian, anti-democracies that exist on our planet, and there will be a big price to pay for all of us as that happens. I won’t like it, and you won’t like it.

Brett Morrison – Official Site

The official web site of Brett Morrison, Self-Made Technology Entrepreneur.

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