Technology TikTok is the best place on the internet, but we have to say no

04:05  06 december  2019
04:05  06 december  2019 Source:   cnet.com

High Schools to TikTok: We’re Catching Feelings

  High Schools to TikTok: We’re Catching Feelings On the wall of a classroom that is home to the West Orange High School TikTok club, large loopy words are scrawled across a whiteboard: “Wanna be TikTok famous? Join TikTok club.” It’s working. “There’s a lot of TikTok-famous kids at our school,” said Amanda DiCastro, who is 14 and a freshman. “Probably 20 people have gotten famous off random things.” The school is on a quiet palm-tree-lined street in a town just outside Orlando. A hallway by the principal’s office is busy with blue plaques honoring the school’s A.P. Scholars. Its choir director, Jeffery Redding, won the 2019 Grammy Music Educator Award.

Hi, my name is Daniel and I have a problem. A TikTok problem.

a person holding a cell phone: Chinese video sharing app TikTok. James Martin/CNET© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Chinese video sharing app TikTok. James Martin/CNET

After dismissing it for months, TikTok was thrust upon me last month at, of all things, a bachelor party in Hong Kong. It was a little like The Hangover, but subtract drugs, strippers and Mike Tyson's tiger and replace it with a Chinese video app aimed at 16-year-olds.

And now I'm addicted. A feed comprised of millions of silly videos from people around the world, curated to my taste by artificial intelligence. I never really stood a chance. Recent favorites include a dog getting its nails clipped, a teen runner belly flopping into a pool of mud mid-race, and a stoner interrupting a college lecture to heat up popcorn with a microwave he brought from home.

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TikTok stands out from other social media in one key way: You actually feel good after using it. Expanding Facebook friend counts lead to people sharing less, making the platform feel sterile. Studies show Instagram, acting as a highlight reel of other people's artificial lives, is harmful to self-esteem. Twitter is designed to be a platform for open conversation, but reduces people, arguments and ideas into 280-character caricatures.

a person holding a cell phone© James Martin/CNET

Do you remember the last time you felt satisfied after using any of these apps? I don't. Not only do I remember the last time I felt satisfied post-TikTok (yesterday), TikTok has brought me closer to friends and colleagues. We share videos and laugh. We bond, which is what Facebook , Instagram and Twitter fail at.

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But TikTok has to go.

My problem with the app isn't its guarantee to waste too much of my time. Though TikTok distinguishes itself by being fun to use, its parent company is like many Silicon Valley giants in one key way: It can't be trusted.

Red flags

Paying attention to TikTok the app has made it necessary to pay attention to TikTok the company. And it's not a pretty sight.

The app is owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, currently the most valuable startup in the world. Being a company of any importance in China means working with the ruling Communist Party in some capacity. Tech platforms in the past have not only had to purge any mention of Tiananmen Square Massacre or Tibetan independence, but also remove "subversive" imagery like Winnie the Pooh and Peppa Pig.

TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions

  TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions TikTok's chief canceled his upcoming meetings with key lawmakers this week, reigniting criticism on Capitol Hill from those who say the Chinese-owned firm is avoiding accountability. © Getty TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions TikTok leader Alex Zhu and TikTok's U.S. general manger Vanessa Pappas tabled meetings with several Republican senators on Monday, citing scheduling issues and the holiday rush. Zhu will try to meet with those same lawmakers after the holidays, a TikTok spokesperson told The Hill.

"Firms such as Huawei, Tencent, ZTE, Alibaba, and Baidu have no meaningful ability to tell the Chinese Communist Party 'no' if officials decide to ask for their assistance," said US International Security bureaucrat Christopher Ashley Ford at a conference in September.

Like Huawei, TikTok denies this charge. The New York Times in November asked TikTok boss Alex Zhu what he would do if President Xi Jinping personally requested that he take down a video or share user data. "I would turn him down," Zhu proclaimed.

So it was a little suspicious when news broke that TikTok had taken down the profile of an American teenager promoting awareness about China's disastrous human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims. TikTok says the 17-year-old's account was disabled not because of that video, but in relation to a TikTok featuring imagery of Osama Bin Laden.

It's an eyebrow raiser for sure, but plausible. Unfortunately for TikTok, and people like me who just want to love TikTok, the app has had a spectacular run of bad news since.

TikTok boss Alex Zhu told the New York Times he would deny a personal request for data or content moderation from Chinese President Xi Jinping. John Phillips/Stringer© Provided by CNET TikTok boss Alex Zhu told the New York Times he would deny a personal request for data or content moderation from Chinese President Xi Jinping. John Phillips/Stringer

A proposed class-action lawsuit filed in California claims the app has been illegally and secretly harvesting personally identifiable user data and sending it to China. A report out of Germany found TikTok had been hiding videos posted by LGBTQ and disabled users from people's feeds, which TikTok said was a temporary anti-bullying measure. A think tank backed by Australia's Department of Defense called ByteDance a "vector for censorship and surveillance," adding that it "collaborates with public security bureaus across China."

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  TikTok’s teen stars want money — and marketers are starting to catch on Influencers and agencies are professionalizing the spaceTo help meet that challenge, a new industry of marketing agencies and influencers is zeroing in on TikTok content. They help companies nail the special mix of quirkiness and cool that’s required to succeed on the platform. “Gen Z doesn’t mind being marketed to, as long as it’s quality content,” says Jacob Pace, the 20-year old CEO of media company Flighthouse.

For its part, TikTok says it doesn't operate in China -- the country has an app called Douyin which is essentially TikTok with a different name and stricter, China-specific content guidelines -- and that it has no data centers in the country. "TikTok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China," a spokesperson said. "We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period."

TikTok is a platform filled with much-needed mindless mirth, and was the springboard for noted banger Ol' Town Road. But when you stack that up against accusations of harvesting user data, censoring what the Chinese Communist Party doesn't like and its parent company's alleged active assistance in human rights violations, it almost seems like it's not worth it.

TikTok time machine

A thought exercise: If you could go back in time and stop yourself and everyone around you from downloading Facebook, would you?

In 2019, Facebook feels inescapable. Dissatisfied users grumble about how they would delete it if they could, and it seems the ongoing privacy catastrophes do little to damage the company. Regulating Facebook fairly would be a tricky balancing act US lawmakers are reluctant to attempt.

Click for more Boom With a View .© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Click for more Boom With a View .

No one could have expected this in 2008, when Facebook overtook Myspace to become the world's biggest social media site. Conversely, TikTok is just 3 years young but the red flags are already there.

EXCLUSIVE: U.S. opens national security investigation into TikTok -sources

  EXCLUSIVE: U.S. opens national security investigation into TikTok -sources The U.S. government has launched a national security review of TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co's $1 billion acquisition of U.S. social media app Musical.ly, according to two people familiar with the matter. require(["medianetNativeAdOnArticle"], function (medianetNativeAdOnArticle) { medianetNativeAdOnArticle.getMedianetNativeAds(true); }); While the $1 billion acquisition was completed two years ago, U.S.

It's hard to say what the ramifications of its huge user base could be but, based on past experience with social media giants plus the nature of business in China, we can guess it's probably not good. The US government isn't idling, with the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) already investigating the national security risks of TikTok and ByteDance, according to Reuters.

But governments move slowly, and tech companies move fast. Unlike Facebook, TikTok isn't yet too big to fail. But it certainly feels like we're at a crossroads. Support it now and potentially create a problem, or play it safe by giving up TikTok.

The reasonable choice to make is clear: When it comes to TikTok, just say no. But we're all pretty bad when it comes to making the reasonable choice. If we weren't, cigarettes wouldn't exist.

Even being a tech journalist aware of its issues, I don't want to give TikTok up. I'm guessing many of the hundreds of millions of teens who make up the app's main user base, and who largely don't know or care about the implications of an ascendant ByteDance, are less keen to hit uninstall.

It's time to admit it. We all have a TikTok problem.

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TikTok was downloaded more than Facebook and Messenger in 2019 .
Well over 700 million people downloaded TikTok in 2019, according to Sensor Tower.The worldwide No. 1 app was WhatsApp, with over 850 million downloads, likely buoyed by its popularity in India. (TikTok too was helped by the ultra-populated country, as Sensor Tower said 45% of its first-time downloaders were in India.) WhatsApp's growth in the fourth quarter of 2020 was up 39% over the previous quarter, Sensor Tower noted.

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