The uncertain future facing the Chinese-owned social media company TikTok and its potential sale to an American company could alleviate national security concerns about access to American user data, says Virginia Tech expert Mike Horning.

Quoting Horning

“The growth of TikTok has raised concerns among security experts for a number of reasons. The app has gained attention because it uses a powerful algorithm that customizes content to users based on a number of user characteristics. This algorithm collects such sophisticated data about users that the data is attractive to both corporations and governments.”  

“However, the company has not been very transparent about who it sells your data to. Analyses of their data capturing methods have shown that personal data could be shared with hundreds of other companies. In addition, because the app is located in China, its data sharing practices are susceptible to Chinese law which requires that data be made available to Chinese officials. This raises security concerns.”

“The sale of the app to an American-based company could alleviate concerns that American data is being shared with foreign powers that are not always working in our mutual interests. An acquisition by Microsoft would provide another asset to the company which has been making investments in some social networks such as LinkedIn. It would also have the potential for lawmakers to provide certain restrictions on data sharing and collection practices in the future.” 

About Horning

Mike Horning is an associate professor of multimedia journalism in the Virginia Tech School of Communication and director of social informatics research in the Center for Human Computer Interaction at Virginia Tech. His research examines how communication technologies impact social attitudes and behaviors, with a current focus on the impact of “fake news” and misinformation on our democratic processes. His expertise has been featured in The Hill, on Sinclair Broadcast Group, and in a number of other media outlets. 

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