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Here is a list of reasons why you should be wary of TikTok

There is a lot of damning evidence that puts TikTok in a very bad place.

tiktok on iphone 11
Image: KnowTechie

TikTok is everywhere. It’s simply amazing just how viral those little snippets can be (in a way that even reminds us of the ill-fated vines?. The service’s reach is so vast that it’s highly likely that, if you open any social media app, chances are you’ll end up seeing one or more TikToks on your timeline. It’s not a criticism. Quite the contrary, it’s a recognition of how massive it has become.

For any upstart company, having a product explode in popularity as TikTok did would have them calling IT staffing services from all over the country, planning for a massive expansion, and investing millions of dollars in staffing and training new personnel.

That’s not the case for ByteDance. The Beijing based company already knew what they had in their hands due to the overwhelming success of TikTok’s younger sibling Douyin. Yes, TikTok had a rocky start, but after fusing with Musical.li and inheriting its user base, it was a meteoric rise to glory.

Unfortunately, TikTok isn’t popular just because the videos are great (which they are). There are some problems surfacing that are worth looking into. Both the app and Bytedance have seen their fair share of bad press from the media. IT experts might not agree on the security issues surrounding the app but India’s ban paints a very bad picture. On the other hand, there is also cause for concern about the kinds of videos people are making.

So, it’s very important to talk about some of the issues surrounding TikTok. Let’s see some of them.

Dangerous challenges

Ok, this one isn’t TikTok’s fault. One could point at any social media and direct the same criticism. But TikTok is big, like 2 billion downloads big, and that means exposure, so everything that goes viral in TikTok is bound to reach farther than apps with a smaller user base.

Have you heard of the outlet challenge? Well, that involved sliding a penny behind a partially plugged cell charger. Or how about the cha-cha slide challenge, where drivers would steer their cars quickly from one side to the other?

But perhaps the most traumatic was the skull breaker challenge. That one landed several kids in the hospital and more than a few ended up facing criminal charges. TikTok has done its fair share in trying to ban these kinds of videos, but by the time they get around to it, thousands of users have already shared their take on these dangerous challenges.

Censorship?

We all know that China has a tight grip on its companies and TikTok tends to restrict content that has anything to say about the country. TikTok’s rules are written in vague terms that are open to interpretation. For example, you can get banned for “criticism/attack towards policies, social rules of any country, such as constitutional monarchy, monarchy, parliamentary system, separation of powers, socialism system, etc”.

That’s fine, except for the fact that bans are almost instantaneous when someone mentions China and are lenient when someone openly criticizes free-market economy or shares Neonazi propaganda. And once again, it’s not that ByteDance hasn’t taken action, it’s that the disparity raises the suspicion of critics who believe that the content is being actively moderated, which leads us to…

TikTok moderates ugly and poor people

One of TikTok’s features is the “For You” timeline which shows videos algorithmically chosen according to what you have seen and liked in the past. No one is quite sure how the algorithm chooses the videos, but an investigation carried out by The Intercept revealed that people in impoverished environments or who are considered unattractive should be penalized and excluded from the list.

What is unattractive you may ask? A beer belly, dwarfism, and having too many wrinkles, are just but a few examples listed in the article. This kind of discrimination is going on right now in 2020 under the guise of “building a better experience to retain new users”.

And if that’s not enough…

The security risks

Last but not least, TikTok has raised dozens of red flags security-wise:

  • Amazon asked its employees to delete the app from their phones (and then backtracked).
  • As mentioned earlier, India banned the app for allegedly being used for data gathering and espionage.
  • The Israeli security agency Check Point released a full report mentioning dozens of vulnerability issues.
  • Steve Huffman, Reddit’s CEO outright called the app “parasitic and spyware”.
  • Before January 2020’s update, a critical exploit could be used to gain access to a user’s account and not only upload or delete videos but also check their private data.
  • The FTC fined TikTok for gathering data from kids without their parent’s consent.
  • Do you copy and paste important stuff on your phone? If you do, there is evidence that TikTok likes to peek at what you are doing with your clipboard at any given time

I could keep going, but the list speaks for itself. There is a lot of damning evidence that puts TikTok in a very bad place. I don’t personally think that banning the app is a solution in any way, but I do think that everyone needs to know about this stuff so that they may make an informed decision about TikTok.

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