TikTok, the massively popular Chinese social-media smartphone app, may be providing personal data from its global user base to the Chinese Communist Party.
If that’s not worrying enough, consider the company’s self-serving approach to a live-streamed suicide in Brazil.
As The Intercept recently revealed, hundreds of people watched and commented on a popular young Brazilian vlogger who killed himself on TikTok around a year ago.
The live stream continued to show his body for over 90 minutes, and employees at ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, only became aware of what was going on after warnings emerged in a WhatsApp group.
A ByteDance boss sprang into action, ordering employees to not “let it go viral,” and the PR team worked quickly — not to alert the police, but to console TikTok users and assure them that ByteDance was always striving to prevent such terrible but isolated events from occurring.
It was a PR win — the story never really broke on social media.
And it wasn’t until two-and-a-half hours after ByteDance heard the news, with their PR strategy in place, that the company finally called the police.
ByteDance’s allegiance to China is also at issue in a new American class-action lawsuit.
The app, the lawsuit claims, “has vacuumed up and transferred to servers in China vast quantities of private and personally-identifiable user data” and done so “without user knowledge or consent.”
ByteDance has assured users that the Chinese Communist Party has no power to censor TikTok, which is available only outside of China.
It states that “our data centres are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law.”
The words ring hollow for American teen Feroza Aziz, who used TikTok last year to criticize Chinese treatment of Uyghurs.
ByteDance suspended her account as a result — later claiming it was a misunderstanding.
An opinion piece in Quartz points out that ByteDance’s protestations aside, all Chinese companies fall under the control of the Communist Party, which has heavily censored other apps that the company has created for domestic consumption.
For now, though, the video-sharing app continues to surge in popularity, fueled by endorsements from major Western popular stars.
It has been downloaded over 1.5 billion times, comparable to and perhaps even surpassing Twitter and Snapchat in popularity.