This week across the globe, there have been fresh calls for TikTok to be banned in certain countries owing to its ownership by Byte Dance – a Chinese owned company. India has already banned the social media app back in June and the U.S have banned it from being downloaded on any federal government issued phones. Here, in Australia we’re no different with the pressure to ban TikTok; with the Australian Treasurer admitting that the data TikTok collects here in Australia can be accessed in China. The ban of TikTok would be a big blow for Gen Z who use the social media app more than they use Google, with TikTok even surpassing Instagram for daily usage in the Gen Z audience.
So why do people want to ban TikTok?
Simply put, it’s down to data security. Specifically, the amount of data collected by TikTok, that seems unrelated to the running of the app itself, alongside concerns of where the data is stored and who can access it. The fear is that Byte Dance could intentionally, or unintentionally use and access that data to the detriment of Australians.
Australian-US cyber security company Internet 2.0 released a report this week making damning claims that TikTok collects “unnecessary” and “excessive” data from TikTok Users. The report found the app can run without all this collected data, and sees information such as your location, your contacts, and what other apps you have installed on your phone that are not related to the running of TikTok.
TikTok have said these are ‘baseless claims’, made by someone who doesn’t have a thorough understanding of how TikTok works and that it’s data collection is ‘not unique in the amount of information it collects’. Those who are data savvy would understand and appreciate the latter statement when looking at other apps such as Facebook & Google.
In fact, as marketers we thrive on data. There are even app analytics companies actively selling information on user profiles that have certain apps and behaviours on their phones. If you have a Facebook account, chances are you are already sharing all of the data TikTok is being accused of harvesting. Facebook even launched a tool last year for you to check as it has so much information on you. This may sound shocking, butas marketers we’re only too willing to purchase data for more accurate targeting to our perfect audience.
Whilst apps can and do collect more information than the average user may have given thought to, all apps on iOS and android operate on an opt in basis, allowing for the control of the user to selectively share what information they want to share – or not install the app at all of course. This opt in model puts the emphasis onto us as users to be aware of and consent to what data is collected when we use an app or a service.
As social media users, this informed consent is especially important to be aware of as the likes of TikTok, Facebook etc. are no longer solely social media companies, they are data businesses looking for a profit.
So, should TikTok be banned?
Personally, I do not believe banning is the answer. Banning TikTok does not solve the root cause of the issue at hand here. Banning the app, only leaves room for another one to enter. Many academics, and even the author of the Internet 2.0 report do not support the outright ban of TikTok.
The way forward for TikTok, other apps and the security of Australian users’ data is for the Australian government to have stricter and clearer data policies in place. Unlike the EU who hold strict data regulations through the creation of GDPR in 2018, Australia is yet to catch up in the same stringent policy. This leaves gaps in data security, with the risk of jumping to a hasty solution, rather than a long term, robust data lead solution that protects Australians.