The hysteria around TikTok and fears of the popular social media platform is bleeding its users of their data and offering it up to the Chinese Government are completely unfounded according to tech academic Nigel Phair.
Phair, a professor of cyber security at Monash University, was asked by TikTok to provide a detailed and unbiased investigation into the policy and technical aspects of data collection.
The report – Entertainment in the Digital Age: An Investigation into Data Leakage and Privacy Concerns of Digital Platforms – took a close look at Google, Facebook (Meta), Twitter and TikTok and found they are close together in terms of the amount of data points collected.
The other concern surrounding TikTok was the security of the platform’s user data and assumption they would be accessed by Chinese intelligence services.
It was these concerns that forced the US Government to remove TikTok from government devices.
The Albanese Government soon followed the American lead and advised staff the app could not be used on Government devices.
But even if a politician used TikTok on his or her personal device it would be collecting precisely the same data only with the permission of the user.
There is no evidence that TikTok has any access to anything on your smartphone apart from your contacts and camera roll.
Regarding data being sent to China, the report found many Australian organisations share data with overseas jurisdictions, including the United States and China.
In fact, the report found two of the “big four” banks (ANZ and Commonwealth Bank), a large telecommunication provider (Telstra), and several high-profile tech companies (including AfterPay) each share their data with China.
This is in direct contradiction to the claims by TikTok’s biggest critics that the platform poses a greater risk of Chinese Communist Party Access as part of China’s National Security Law.
Despite these Australian companies sharing data with China, they have never been singled out like TikTok as a threat to our privacy and security.
TikTok has always maintained it doesn’t share data with China and that its servers are in Singapore and the US.
The publicly available privacy policies of these Australian organisations it clearly shows they may share Australians’ personal data with overseas-based entities including China.
According to Phair’s report, more than half of the world’s population use social media
Australians on average spend 2h 4m on social media per day.
The average time per month users spend on TikTok is 29h 36m, Facebook 17h 48m, Instagram 8h 36m, and WhatsApp 5h 36m.3
TikTok reportedly reaches 37 per cent of Australian adults, or around 7.38 million people and is the world’s fifth most used social media platform, with more than a billion global monthly active users.
In Australia, Facebook leads with 18.12 million active users, Instagram has 13.62 million active users with Twitter at 6.96 million active users.
The report looked at these advertising-driven platforms and the respective privacy policies to find out how data they were trying to collect.
It found Google collected the most data – 39 out of 40 data points compared to Facebook/Meta (33 of 40), TikTok (31 of 40) and Twitter (29 of 40).
These include things like name, date of birth, email, payment information, location, time zone, carrier name and operating system.
The report’s conclusion states:
“The four digital platforms considered (Google, Facebook/Meta, TikTok and Twitter) are similar in their collection of data. In light of these similarities, and the ubiquitous nature of overseas data flows, the case for singling out digital platforms based solely on their country of origin appears misconceived.”