Why TikTok’s security risks keep raising fears

Why TikTok’s security risks keep raising fears
The TikTok logo is displayed on signage outside the social media app's company offices in Culver City, California, on March 16, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 17 March 2023

Why TikTok’s security risks keep raising fears

Why TikTok’s security risks keep raising fears
  • In 2020, then-President Donald Trump sought to force ByteDance to sell off its US assets and ban TikTok from app stores
  • Courts blocked the effort, and President Joe Biden rescinded Trump’s orders but ordered an in-depth study of the issue

TikTok is once again fending off claims that its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, would share user data from its popular video-sharing app with the Chinese government, or push propaganda and misinformation on its behalf.
China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday accused the United States itself of spreading disinformation about TikTok’s potential security risks following a report in the Wall Street Journal that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US — part of the Treasury Department — was threatening a US ban on the app unless its Chinese owners divest their stake.
So are the data security risks real? And should users be worried that the TikTok app will be wiped off their phones?
Here’s what to know:
What are the concerns about TikTok?
Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have warned that ByteDance could share TikTok user data — such as browsing history, location and biometric identifiers — with China’s authoritarian government.
A law implemented by China in 2017 requires companies to give the government any personal data relevant to the country’s national security. There’s no evidence that TikTok has turned over such data, but fears abound due to the vast amount of user data it, like other social media companies, collects.
Concerns around TikTok were heightened in December when ByteDance said it fired four employees who accessed data on two journalists from Buzzfeed News and The Financial Times while attempting to track down the source of a leaked report about the company.
How is the US responding?
White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby declined to comment when asked Thursday to address the Chinese foreign ministry’s comments about TikTok, citing the review being conducted by the Committee on Foreign Investment.
Kirby also could not confirm that the administration sent TikTok a letter warning that the US government may ban the application if its Chinese owners don’t sell its stake but added, “we have legitimate national security concerns with respect to data integrity that we need to observe.”
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump and his administration sought to force ByteDance to sell off its US assets and ban TikTok from app stores. Courts blocked the effort, and President Joe Biden rescinded Trump’s orders but ordered an in-depth study of the issue. A planned sale of TikTok’s US assets was also shelved as the Biden administration negotiated a deal with TikTok that would address some of the national security concerns.
In Congress, US Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Jerry Moran, a Democrat and a Republican, wrote a letter in February to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging the Committee on Foreign Investment panel, which she chairs, to “swiftly conclude its investigation and impose strict structural restrictions” between TikTok’s American operations and ByteDance, including potentially separating the companies.
At the same time, lawmakers have introduced measures that would expand the Biden administration’s authority to enact a national ban on TikTok. The White House has already backed a Senate proposal that has bipartisan support.
How has TikTok already been restricted?
On Thursday, British authorities said they are banning TikTok on government-issued phones on security grounds, following similar moves by the European Union’s executive branch, which temporarily banned TikTok from employee phones. Denmark and Canada have also announced efforts to block it on government-issued phones.
Last month, the White House said it would give US federal agencies 30 days to delete TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices. Congress, the US armed forces and more than half of US states had already banned the app.
What does TikTok say?
TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan said the company was already answering security concerns through “transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification.”
In June, TikTok said it would route all data from US users to servers controlled by Oracle, the Silicon Valley company it chose as its US tech partner in 2020 in an effort to avoid a nationwide ban. But it is storing backups of the data in its own servers in the US and Singapore. The company said it expects to delete US user data from its own servers, but it has not provided a timeline as to when that would occur.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to testify next week before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the company’s privacy and data-security practices, as well as its relationship with the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance has been trying to position itself as more of an international company — and less of a Chinese company that was founded in Beijing in 2012 by its current chief executive Liang Rubo and others.
Theo Bertram, TikTok’s vice president of policy in Europe, said in a Tweet Thursday that ByteDance “is not a Chinese company.” Bertram said its ownership consists of 60 percent by global investors, 20 percent employees and 20 percent founders. Its leaders are based in cities like Singapore, New York, Beijing and other metropolitan areas.
Are the security risks legitimate?
It depends on who you ask.
Some tech privacy advocates say while the potential abuse of privacy by the Chinese government is concerning, other tech companies have data-harvesting business practices that also exploit user information.
“If policy makers want to protect Americans from surveillance, they should advocate for a basic privacy law that bans all companies from collecting so much sensitive data about us in the first place, rather than engaging in what amounts to xenophobic showboating that does exactly nothing to protect anyone,” said Evan Greer, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Fight for the Future.
Karim Farhat, a researcher with the Internet Governance Project at Georgia Tech, said a TikTok sale would be “completely irrelevant to any of the alleged ‘national security’ threats” and go against “every free market principle and norm” of the state department’s Internet freedom principles.
Others say there is legitimate reason for concern.
People who use TikTok might think they’re not doing anything that would be of interest to a foreign government, but that’s not always the case, said Anton Dahbura, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute. Important information about the United States is not strictly limited to nuclear power plants or military facilities; it extends to other sectors, such as food processing, the finance industry and universities, Dahbura said.
Is there precedence for banning tech companies?
Last year, the US banned the sale of communications equipment made by Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE, citing risks to national security. But banning the sale of items could be more easily done than banning an app, which is accessed through the web.
Such a move might also go to the courts on grounds that it might violate the First Amendment as some civil liberties groups have argued.

Media has key role to play in promoting Palestinian cause, says leading Muslim official

Media has key role to play in promoting Palestinian cause, says leading Muslim official
Updated 22 March 2023

Media has key role to play in promoting Palestinian cause, says leading Muslim official

Media has key role to play in promoting Palestinian cause, says leading Muslim official
  • Hissein Brahim Taha, secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said news organizations have a duty to ensure accurate coverage of Palestinian issues
  • He was speaking during a virtual workshop titled ‘Media Circulation of Terms of the Palestinian Cause,’ which addressed the role of the media in discourse on Palestinian issues

LONDON: The media has a critical role to play in helping to promote the Palestinian cause, according to Hissein Brahim Taha, the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

He was speaking during a virtual workshop titled “Media Circulation of Terms of the Palestinian Cause,” which was organized on Tuesday by the Union of OIC News Agencies to address the role of media in discourse on Palestinian issues. The participants included diplomats and representatives of news agencies and media groups.

In his opening speech, Taha said the media can play a vital role in raising awareness of Palestinian issues and mobilizing support for the Palestinian people. It is important to ensure that Palestine and Al-Quds Al-Sharif remain at the forefront of the political and the media agendas, he added.

He said his organization is following, with great concern, the escalation of a media war waged by the Israeli occupation, whether in the form of systematic attacks against news organizations and their staff, or through the promotion of false narratives that deny the very existence of Palestinians and their rights.

On Tuesday, the OIC condemned remarks made by Israeli Minister of Finance Betzalel Smotrich in which he denied the existence of the Palestinian people, their history and their legitimate rights. The organization called on the international community “to reject and condemn these dangerous, racist allegations, which will undermine security and stability and fuel violence, tension and hatred.”

In Taha’s speech during the workshop, which was delivered on his behalf by Assistant Secretary General for Palestine and Al-Quds Affairs Samir Bakr Diab, he also called on the media to use accurate and balanced language when reporting on Palestinian issues, and to avoid rhetoric that might incite violence or hatred while offering a correct narrative. He urged news organizations to emphasize terms such as occupation, racism, ethnic cleansing, the Nakba, and colonial settlement.

During the workshop, the participants discussed a number of issues, including the importance of using unified terminology when reporting on the Palestinian cause and the need to avoid media bias.

They also called for the development of a reference guide for terminology related to discourse on Palestinian issues, and talked about how news agencies can confront misinformation and media manipulation through the use of terminology.

MBC Media Solutions launches self-serve ad platform for Shahid

MBC Media Solutions launches self-serve ad platform for Shahid
Updated 22 March 2023

MBC Media Solutions launches self-serve ad platform for Shahid

MBC Media Solutions launches self-serve ad platform for Shahid
  • MMS Works gives users more power to manage their marketing campaigns

LONDON: MBC Media Solutions (MMS), the commercial arm of MBC Group, announced on Wednesday the launch of a self-serve advertising platform for Shahid.

The new service, MMS Works, will enable users to advertise on the streaming platform, giving them more control over their marketing campaigns.

“Shahid is the sought-after VOD platform for all Arab viewers, especially during Ramadan. With the increased content library offered since the beginning of 2023, all advertisers can now enjoy this meaningful scale-to-connect solution with their target audiences,” MMS CEO Ahmed Al-Sahhaf said.

“MMS Works will expand the advertisement market potential and ease the way for brands to be present on Shahid, the world’s leading Arabic streaming platform.”

Through MMS Works, large and small brands can maximize their presence on Shahid AVOD and connect with millions of Arabs from around the world who tune into the video platform.

The new service allows brands and advertisers to manage their own marketing campaigns from start to finish.

Users can choose ad formats, target audiences, target impressions, upload ads, pay online and extract campaign reports, among other features.

In the platform’s launch phase, users will be able to pause ads and program native in-stream ads across both display and video needs.

In its second phase, the platform will expand its solutions and enhance the user experience, as well as introduce an Arabic interface.

MMS said its new service arrives at a perfect time, as users typically spend three hours per session on Shahid during Ramadan, viewing an average of 10.2 ads.

The platform, the region’s leading streaming service, is expected to see a significant increase in traffic during the holy month.

Suit says Meta board ‘turned blind eye’ to human trafficking

Suit says Meta board ‘turned blind eye’ to human trafficking
Updated 22 March 2023

Suit says Meta board ‘turned blind eye’ to human trafficking

Suit says Meta board ‘turned blind eye’ to human trafficking
  • Claims mischaracterize platform efforts to combat this type of activity, Meta argues

SAN FRANCISCO: A shareholder lawsuit filed late Monday accuses board members of Instagram and Facebook parent Meta of shirking their duties by ignoring human and sex trafficking on the tech giant’s social platforms.
The suit filed in the Court of Chancery in the US state of Delaware calls for Mark Zuckerberg, along with other executives and board members, to be ordered to institute reforms and pay damages.
Meta board members and senior executives named in the suit “turned a blind eye to sex/human trafficking, child sexual exploitation, and other predatory conduct occurring on Meta’s online platforms,” the suit charged.
Meta chief and controlling shareholder Zuckerberg is a primary target of the lawsuit.
“We prohibit human exploitation and child sexual exploitation in no uncertain terms,” Meta spokesperson Andy Stone said in reply to an AFP enquiry.
“The claims in this lawsuit mischaracterize our efforts to combat this type of activity.”
Those behind the suit include Employees’ Retirement System of the State of Rhode Island, Kiwi Investment Management Wholesale Core Global Fund, and Teamsters Pension Fund, according to the filing.
Meta has teams, policies, partnerships and software devoted to thwarting misuse of its platforms for criminal activities.
Meta already faces numerous lawsuits on an array of grounds, including whether it is harmful to the mental health of young users of its social networking services.
The tech titan has been under increasing pressure from legislators since 2021, when whistleblower Frances Haugen — a former Facebook engineer — leaked documents suggesting the firm put profits before safety.

Chalhoub Group launches Web3-native sneaker brand

Chalhoub Group launches Web3-native sneaker brand
Updated 22 March 2023

Chalhoub Group launches Web3-native sneaker brand

Chalhoub Group launches Web3-native sneaker brand
  • Designed by French designer Kacimi Latamene, new collection will launch on April 12

DUBAI: UAE-based Chalhoub Group has announced the launch of SOL3MATES, a Web3-native sneaker brand, which will produce limited-edition sneakers.

Self-described as a “community-centric sneaker brand,” SOL3MATES aims to create an immersive and engaging experience by involving its community members in all aspects of the sneaker journey, from onboarding new designers to the co-creation of upcoming sneaker drops.

To join the community, customers can buy a membership non-fungible token, or NFT, that will provide benefits such as early access, preferred pricing, virtual wearables, free merchandise, community events and access to monthly sneaker giveaways.

“We listen to our customers, notably in the shoe space where we like to think of ourselves as catalysts for innovation, and find answers to their demands,” said Michael Chalhoub, president of strategy, growth, innovation and investment and joint ventures at Chalhoub Group.

“SOL3MATES will be to the sneaker industry what the lace is to the shoe: The element that ties it all, that brings the physical and the digital together, and that links the sneaker community with the Web3 community in an original way,” he said.

SOL3MATES isn’t Chalhoub Group’s first venture in the Web3 space. Last year, the group’s Christofle entered the metaverse with its first NFT collection “925 Genesis MOOD,” which sold out in five minutes.  

Since then, “we started thinking what we could launch that could generate an even bigger impact.” The result is SOL3MATES, which “aims to be the small snowball that creates an avalanche of positive disruption in the sneaker industry, together with its community and the designers we’ll collaborate with,” said Nick Vinckier, head of corporate innovation and founder of SOL3MATES.

All of SOL3MATES’ sneaker collections will be designed in collaboration with upcoming sneaker designers from around the world.

The first collection, to be revealed on April 12, is designed by up-and-coming French designer Kacimi Latamene, who has worked with several leading designers such as Vitaly and Natasha Zinko.

Latamene said: “The most important aspect of this new brand is that it allows me to get in touch directly with the sneaker community. The SOL3MATES members will be involved in the entire journey. I’ll be able to build a relationship and share the story behind my designs.”

SOL3MATES sneakers will be available for pre-order in limited quantities and community members owning an NFT will have pre-access to the sneakers at a preferred price.

After the community pre-order window closes and if any sneakers remain, others will be able to pre-order the product.

The SOL3MATES sneakers will be delivered for free to community members worldwide one month before the public. They will also feature NFC authentication, AR augmentation and a virtual counterpart, wearable in Decentraland.

Last year, Chalhoub Group unveiled “GCC State of the Metaverse and its Potential for Luxury Retail,” a report which revealed the thoughts of Gulf consumers about Web3, which includes the metaverse, cryptocurrencies and NFTs.

The report showed high levels of awareness across all facets of Web3, with consumers being most aware of crypto (77 percent), followed by NFTs (49 percent) and the metaverse (46 percent), mainly among younger, high-income males predominantly in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman.  

Luxury consumers want to engage in metaverse experiences, with 89 percent saying that they would like to preview products in the metaverse and 87 percent saying they expect their favorite brands to be present in the metaverse.

Still, “we do not believe in a virtual-only future,” Vinckier told Arab News in a separate interview.

He added: “We don’t sell luxury. Luxury is the experience in the (purchase) journey and that will be the same for Web3.”

TikTok revamps community guidelines, adds new policies

TikTok revamps community guidelines, adds new policies
Updated 22 March 2023

TikTok revamps community guidelines, adds new policies

TikTok revamps community guidelines, adds new policies
  • Platform to tackle AI and climate change in new update

DUBAI: TikTok has announced a “refresh” of its community guidelines and introduced new “community principles,” the company said in a statement.  

The community principles are aimed at helping users to better understand TikTok’s decisions about safety on the platform.

The principles are based on the platform’s “commitment to uphold human rights and aligned with international legal frameworks” and guide decisions about how the platform moderates content in a way that “strikes a balance between freedom of expression and preventing harm,” TikTok said.

Some of the key changes to the guidelines include enhancing rules for treating “synthetic media,” which TikTok described as content created or modified by artificial intelligence technology, and the addition of the term “tribe” as a protected attribute in its hate speech and hateful behavior policies.

Moving forward, TikTok will provide more detail about its work to protect civic and election integrity, including its approach to government, politician and political party accounts.

TikTok has also added a new section under its misinformation policy to address climate misinformation. While discussion about the topic will be allowed, the platform will prohibit any misinformation that “undermines well-established scientific consensus.”

The company consulted more than 100 organizations around the world, including the International Association for Suicide Prevention, the Safety Advisory Council and SMEX, as well as users, to inform the refreshed guidelines.

The new guidelines will come into effect on April 21 and the platform will provide additional training to its moderators to help enforce the updated rules and standards as they start to roll out.

Based on feedback, TikTok will now host all information about its rules and standards in one place where it will be organized thematically.

For each topic, the platform provides a brief explanation of what is not allowed with more information including definitions and the range of actions the platform might take if they are violated.

Additionally, TikTok is expanding its enforcement strategy by sharing more information about the actions that the platform takes against accounts that violate their rules; explaining the considerations for enforcement of rules based on public interest, and the platform’s approach to content that critiques public figures; and including more detail about how TikTok uses informational labels, warnings and opt-in screens.

“The world is changing,” said Julie de Bailliencourt, TikTok’s global head of product policy, during a press briefing. “Our community is changing. We see new trends coming and going, and we think we need to regularly update these guidelines to meet the expectation of people who come on our service.”

The updated community guidelines come amid growing concerns about TikTok with CEO Shou Zi Chew scheduled to appear before the US congress on March 23.

In a TikTok video posted on Tuesday, Chew said that the app now has more than 150 million active monthly US users. “That’s almost half the US coming to TikTok,” Chew said.

“Some politicians have started talking about banning TikTok. Now this could take TikTok away from all 150 million of you,” he said.

A growing number of US lawmakers support a ban on TikTok, and on March 1, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted along party lines to give US President Joe Biden new powers to ban TikTok.