It’s Tik Tok time?

Viral app brings security issues


Gray Timberlake, Editor-in-Chief

When senior Malinalli Cervantes created a TikTok that went viral, her primary focus was not the potential security issues she could have created for herself.

The TikTok app allows users to post 15 second videos that are typically set to popular music or “sounds.” Videos become “Tik-Tok famous,” like Cervantes’, when they make it on the “For You Page” — an individually curated page of videos with trending videos and videos similar to those users have liked.

“My dad is really concerned with privacy and security with technology,” junior Alliza Manayan said. “He asked me if I had TikTok, and when I told him I did, he asked me to delete it because he said they could take all of my information and use it because it’s not a secure app.”

The Chinese internet technology company ByteDance bought the app for $1 billion in 2017 and turned it into Tik-
Tok. The social media app is now the most downloaded app in the world, with more than 500 million users worldwide, but a recent U.S. government investigation has users wondering if the viral app could be a potential security threat for users.

Sen. Marco Rubio requested the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States to launch a national security review on TikTok in a letter to Secretary of Treasury Steven Mnunchin on Oct. 9.

“These Chinese-owned apps are increasingly being used to censor content and silence open discussion on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese Government and Communist Party,” Rubio wrote in his letter.

Rubio claims that TikTok is a national security threat, but in addition to the security and censorship concerns for the United States, there are concerns for the privacy of every individual user on TikTok, especially once videos go viral, like Cervantes’.

The TikTok is set to an original sound by user @lyricplute with a voice saying, “Ayo private school check,” with Gold Digger by Kanye West in the background. The video features Convent & Stuart Hall students in dress uniform around campus, including the Sage lunch spread, Cortile, the view from the Williams Library and the Mary Mardel Chapel and has 376.6K views, 44.5K likes, 3277 reshares and 573 comments as of Dec. 9.

“I made the video because someone sent me a video with the sound “private school check” and asked if it was my school,” senior Malinalli Cervantes said. “It wasn’t, but I thought I could do a better job. I was really surprised when I got 1,000 views in the first hour, but it just blew up from there.”

TikTok is transparent about what personal data it collects and how the company will use it and share it on its website “Privacy Policy” page. All TikTok users must agree to the Terms of Service, which includes the Privacy Policy, in order to create an account.

The Safety team at TikTok did not respond to multiple press inquiries from The Broadview.

“We collect information when you create an account and use the Platform, such as your contact details, content you create, and your location,” TikTok states in its Privacy Policy, “We also collect information you share with us from third-party social network providers, and technical and behavioral information about your use of the Platform. We also collect information contained in the messages you send through our Platform and information from your phone book, if you grant us access to your phone book on your mobile device.”

While TikTok’s Privacy Policy is available to read in the Terms of Service, only 2% of people click on the Terms and Conditions when downloading a new app, according to a study by Deloitte in 2017.

“I don’t remember if I read the privacy policy, but I most likely didn’t because I was so excited and in such a rush to make a TikTok account that I probably skipped it,” Manayan said.

TikTok’s catchphrase “Make Your Day” connects to the dopamine that is released when scrolling through social media platforms like TikTok that makes users feel a sense of happiness. This constant scrolling is often associated with a behavioral addiction to social media platforms like TikTok that many teenagers face according to Addiction Center.

“I deleted TikTok for about a week and I’ve been redownloading it and deleting it because I am so addicted,” Manayan said. “It just makes me so happy and watching the videos brings me joy, but the endless scrolling keeps me going and I spend hours on it.”

TikTok has a high retention rate with 90% of users visiting the app multiple times a day with the average user spending 52 minutes per day on the app.

“There is so much peer pressure to download apps like TikTok,” Allan Manayan, Alliza Manayan’s father said. “When your friends tell you to download an app, you bypass all of the privacy agreements, so I sadly don’t think people read the privacy policies.”

Beyond the information users share with TikTok when accepting the Terms of Service, further security risks can come with having a public account, as anyone can see the content that is posted. If Cervantes’ video had been posted on a private account, it would not have made it on the For You Page or gone viral.

“If my account was private I couldn’t go TikTok famous,” Manayan said. “I haven’t thought deeply about the risks, I just want to go viral.”