Worries about data security have 14.3 million USA-based users considering deleting the Chinese social media platform TikTok. TikTok use in the USA exploded after popular The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon encouraged viewers to participate in a series of TikTok challenges in late 2018. While American users are incredibly active on TikTok, India boasts 611 million users and China, 173.2 million users, according to Oberlo, and with TikTok available in 155 countries – concerns about data security are growing just as fast as the company itself. 

TikTok is owned by Beijing-based corporation ByteDance, giving rise to concerns that user data may be shared, currently or in the future, with the Chinese government. The Indian government is taking the potential threat very seriously, banning 59 Chinese apps they considered to be threatening to the "national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India". The head of TikTok India, Nikhill Gandhi tweeted, "TikTok continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government. Further if we are requested to in the future we would not do so. We place the highest importance on user privacy and integrity".

In an April 2, 2020 Lawfare article entitled "Data Security and U.S.-China Tech Entanglement" by Samm Sacks, a Senior Fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center and a Cybersecurity Policy Fellow at New America, the author informs readers that "The Chinese government does not necessarily have unfettered real-time access to all companies' data. Chinese President Xi Jinping's government has built the world's most comprehensive cyber governance framework. With the 2017 Cybersecurity Law as the centerpiece, a sprawling framework governs data security and transfer, critical infrastructure, and digital content". Ms. Sacks reminds readers that even Chinese companies routinely refuse or push back on requests for information from the Chinese government - although for cultural reasons it is not widely discussed. She specifically mentions some of China's most well-known companies including Didi, Tencent, Alibaba and WeChat who have documented cases of refusing direct requests for user data from the government.

TikTok parent company ByteDance has tried to reduce tensions by reassuring global users that they have "…always been committed to becoming a global company. In this process, we are faced with all kinds of complicated and unimaginable difficulties, including the tense international political environment, the collision and conflict of different cultures, and the plagiarism and smear of competitor Facebook. But we still adhere to the vision of globalization and continue to increase investment in markets around the world, including China, to create value for global users".

For those with concerns over the safety of their data in the hands of Chinese Tech companies like ByteDance, it's important to realize that as with every country and enterprise in the world, there are those companies that fall under the umbrella of government control and use, those with direct and indirect government ties, and private companies owned by private citizens with no government ties whatsoever beyond adherence to the law.

It is also important to understand that the information being shared by users of platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Google is the same as the information shared by users of TikTok. When you share your information with an enterprise, the information is out there, and while companies are ideally doing their best to ensure the integrity of your personal data, there is always of a chance of a breach or cyber-theft which could potentially make your data available to people with malicious intent - or even government agencies. And if China having access to your data is concerning, the United States can legally require any US company with operations anywhere in the world to provide data on users regardless of what country the users reside in, regardless of GDPR and other compliance requirements.

Finally, TikTok users should also be aware that tech giant Microsoft is vigorously pursuing the option of purchasing TikTok service in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA, after discussion between CEO Satya Nadella and President Trump last week. Hoping to alleviate tensions, Microsoft released a statement to reassure the public saying, "To the extent that any such data is currently stored or backed-up outside the United States, Microsoft would ensure that this data is deleted from servers outside the country after it is transferred".

About Sangfor Technologies

Sangfor takes the data privacy of our customers, partners and third parties very seriously. Data security should be of great importance to everyone and there are a few ways you can protect yourself and your business when working with international companies and across borders.

First, contact the company or companies you are working with or considering working with and ask for their policies on data protection. Do your due diligence to reassure yourself that you are working with a trustworthy company.

Discuss the security measures these companies have in place or plan to deploy to protect user or corporate data. Ask if the company uses a next generation firewall technology, like Sangfor’s NGAF or endpoint protections like Sangfor's Endpoint Secure to secure their network, computers, data centres and boundaries. Security like this should be the baseline for enterprises wishing to secure their data - and investment in this kind of security is a good step toward determining the trustworthiness of the company you are working with and how seriously they take security.

Sangfor Technologies is an APAC-based, global leading vendor of IT infrastructure solutions specializing in Network Security and Cloud Computing. For more information about Sangfor data privacy policies, visit us at www.sangfor.com, and stick around to learn more about Sangfor’s Security solutions. Let Sangfor make your IT simpler, more secure and valuable.

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