US pokes TikTok bear now claiming it tracks users' 'sensitive words'
TikTok justifies its collection of data on the “hit rate” of sensitive words, by saying that it helps the company understand and develop app performance.
According to Forbes, TikTok's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, is tracking the application of “sensitive words” in its products like “must kill", “forbidden”, or “prohibited” in posts that may be blocked, but the outlet claims that the tool tracks every single use of the terms and their synonyms, allows it to log and track the location of the user.
On its part, TikTok has justified its collection of data on the “hit rate” of sensitive words, by saying that it helps the company understand and develop app performance.
Former US head of counterintelligence, William Evanina, told Forbes that the so-called “detection tool” is “proof positive that there are specific things that they are concerned about and they want to monitor who was saying them, when and how often," reiterating the rhetoric that China is tracking American TikTok users who may criticize Beijing.
“They’re not just collecting it for collection’s sake,” he said.
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Forbes drew the list of words from alleged internal documents. One group of lists concerning Chinese power and culture included lists of “negative core words of the party, government” and “Falun Gong” terms for tracking, plus a “must-kill word list” concerning “June 4,” the date of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
Hong Kong and Taiwan were also a part of several lists, and others entailed Western politics focusing on former US President Donald Trump and trade between China and the US.
Another set monitors vocabulary involving “leaked experiment”, “missing experiments”, and even pangolins, which is the mammal some blamed for being an intermediary between the bats, in which they claim SARS-CoV-2 originated, and humans.
The app's spokesperson, Jamie Favazza, has denied any of the political lists mentioned.
She clarified that a majority of the list titles had “translation errors and are not relevant to TikTok," while others were merely wordlists “used to help protect our community from hate speech, misinformation, and other harmful content.”
According to Favazza, TikTok’s keyword platform is completely separate from that of ByteDance’s Chinese apps, although some lists pertained to Douyin (Chinese TikTok), ByteDance’s news service Toutiao, and its workplace software Lark, among other exclusively-Chinese entities.
Although TikTok admitted that ByteDance employees in China had access to details of US accounts, they insisted that the data were not turned over to Chinese authorities. Despite the assurances, President Joe Biden threatened to ban TikTok unless the latter separates from ByteDance.
Monitoring 'America's young'
Back in November, TikTok came under severe attack from within the Democratic and Republican parties, while the US administration considered a proposal regarding the discontinuation of the app's operation in the United States.
Two prominent senators from the Democratic and Republican parties announced that they will introduce legislation to ban the use of TikTok in the United States, amid fears that it is a Chinese “surveillance tool”, according to Bloomberg.
“It’s not just the content you upload to TikTok but all the data on your phone, other apps, all your personal information, even facial imagery, even where your eyes are looking on your phone,” Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton said.
Cotton called the platform “one of the most massive surveillance programs ever, especially on America’s young people," advising Americans to delete the app and get a new phone.
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