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TikTok does not pose an open threat to U.S. national security, researchers say

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Released Monday by the University of Toronto Citizen Lab’s cybersecurity group, the report comes after government officials in many countries, including the administration of former President Donald Trump, suggested that the famous Chinese short video app could help Beijing spy abroad. state.

Citizen Lab, which publishes regular reports on censorship and surveillance by Chinese social media apps, found no evidence of “open malicious behavior” following a technical analysis by TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd.

The app, built around addiction algorithms that serve up short videos, is no more intrusive than Facebook when it comes to data collection, the researchers found.

The researchers warned that there may be security issues they did not find. They also said the Chinese government could use “unconventional ways” to force ByteDance to submit data using countries’ national security laws.

However, the study did not find immediate security issues with TikTok, “said Pellaeon Lin, lead author of the research, who also noted that no evidence has surfaced for Beijing using emergency measures to access the data. for TikTok users.

An attempt by the Trump administration last summer to stop TikTok launched a several-month saga that included retaliatory regulations from the Chinese government and a last-minute deal to sell U.S. operations applications to Oracle Corp. which was closed indefinitely after Mr. Trump lost again – the election.

The Biden administration is currently assessing whether the national security threat cited by its predecessor continues to guarantee the ban.

Mr Trumps’ argument, presented in an executive order, claimed that TikTok posed a national security threat because the Chinese government could use it to steal the personal data of applications of 100 million or more American users. The executive order also cited the risk of censorship of TikTok content deemed politically sensitive by the Chinese government and the spread of misinformation.

Mr. Trump’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The application has also attracted attention from other governments in the world. Last June, following deadly border clashes with China, the Indian government banned TikTok and dozens of other Chinese applications citing cyber security concerns. Pakistan, an old ally of Beijing, has also imposed temporary bans on TikTok for what it has called inappropriate content.

In both cases, ByteDance said it was committed to working with the authorities to resolve their concerns.

The app reached about 2.5 billion installations globally since last week, according to app analytics firm Sensor Tower, although the number of new installs since January has dropped 54% year-on-year, likely due to India’s ban and restrictions other regulatory measures adopted in 2020

These bans have multiple political motivations, “Citizen Lab said in its report, adding that the research team wanted to analyze privacy and security issues at TikTok and its Chinese equivalent, Douyin, from a evidence-based technical perspective.

Over the past year, Citizen Lab analyzed the Android versions of TikTok and Douyin by tracking what data was collected by apps from users, as well as where content was censored within apps.

None of the applications appeared to collect contact lists, or record or send photos, videos and location data without the user’s permission, the researchers reported, citing network traffic data collected between January and September 2020.

The amount of data collected by TikTok is comparable to the practices of other major social media platforms, the report noted. Both Facebook and TikTok collect information about device users, which can be set to identify and track users when they are not registered, and in-app behavior, such as posting consent.

The researchers also drew attention to similarities between Douyin and TikTok, given concerns about Beijing possibly accessing TikToks data and censorship of content ordered by the Chinese government, such as in connection with pro-democracy protests. in Hong Kong, which the company has denied.

Both apps share a lot of code, the report found, but there are big differences in how they handle moderating certain content in the app, such as search results.

TikTok does not appear to censor the things users search for in the app that are considered taboo in mainland China, though it was unclear if the posts themselves were treated similarly, said Citizen Lab, which used a list of 5,420 keywords previously blocked in Chinese. widely used WeChat messaging application as search query. When researchers tested 392 of those keywords in Douyin, they found that about 40 percent were censored.

ByteDance did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Douyin.

Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that TikTok content moderators in the U.S. had clashed with Beijing executives over restrictions on videos showing the fragmentation, arguing that such rules punished certain women on the platform.

A TikTok user told the Gazette last year that she was temporarily banned by TikTok after kissing her girlfriend on the cheek during a live broadcast. “When her account was restored, she was notified that she was blocked for serious pornography.”

A TikTok representative said that LGBTQ + creators are part of one of the most active and dynamic communities on TikTok, “and that the app has invested heavily in its moderation practices in recent years, including setting up an external advisory council. TikTok on such policies.

Citizen Lab researchers said they were unable to test the applications in every circumstance or perform a comprehensive analysis due to the extensive code base. Their study was set up to uncover any open security and privacy issues, they said. The researchers also did not investigate the potential for useful misinformation for the Chinese government to spread to TikTok.

“It’s super complicated to prove something is missing, especially in such a large application,” said Baptiste Robert, a French security researcher who published an analysis of the TikToks code last year and came to the same conclusion as Citizen Lab in regarding application and data security.-collection practices.

“Importers are important for technical people to take this debate back, to enter the debate with our skills and facts,” he said.

Founder of Tesla Inc. Elon Musk quoted TikTok in arguing during a high-level conference in China on Saturday that concerns over commercial espionage were exaggerated.

Even if there was espionage, what would the other country learn, and would it really matter? “Said Mr Musk, who was responding to the Chinese government ‘s recent restrictions on Tesla cars by sensitive personnel due to data security concerns. TikToks videos mostly show people simply dancing nonsense,” he said. .

This story has been published by a wire agency source with no changes to the text.

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