US Army banned the popular TikTok app over China security concerns

Pierluigi Paganini January 03, 2020

The U.S. Army this week has banned the popular TikTok app from government mobile amid fear of China-linked cyberespionage.

The US Army has banned the use of the popular TikTok app on mobile phones used by its personnel for security reasons.

TikTok is a social media app that allows its users to create and share short form videos.

The app developed by the Chinese firm ByteDance has over 1.3 billion installs worldwide, it has come under close scrutiny in the US and other countries for its alleged link with the Government of Beijing.

All free accounts are by default public, only subscribers could restrict the access to the accounts’ content.

US Army spokeswoman, Lt Col Robin Ochoa, told US media that the app is considered “a cyber threat”.

In October, both Democratic and Republican senators called for an investigation by intelligence agencies into the popular app, while in December the US Navy announced a similar decision.

“It is considered a cyber threat,” Lt. Col. Robin Ochoa, an Army spokeswoman, told “We do not allow it on government phones.”

“As of mid-December, the Army began advising soldiers to stop using TikToK on all government-owned phones, Ochoa said. The U.S. Navy recently put out similar guidance, prohibiting the use of TiKTok on government phones, according to reports by Gizmodo and other publications.” continues

“The policy reversal on TikTok comes after the release of a Dec. 16 Defense Department Cyber Awareness Message identifying “TikTok as having potential security risks associated with its use,” according to the message.”

The military is also inviting its staff to avoid the use of the app on private mobile phones, the Department of Defence recently also issued guidance for employees “to be wary of applications you download”.

Experts speculate the app can be used for intelligence gathering on US citizens and for this reason it represents a threat to homeland security.

“Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton suggested that TikTok could also be used for a foreign-influence campaign similar to that carried out on social media in the 2016 US presidential election.” reported the BBC.

“Speaking to the BBC in November, TikTok said that changes made over the course of 2019 included strengthening the capabilities and autonomy of the US team.”

The company behind TikTok attempted to reassure the US authorities explaining that all US user data are located outside China, and not subject to Chinese law.

This week TikTok released its first-ever transparency report, which includes data access requests from various countries. Strangely China was absent, top information requests came from India (107 requests) the United States (79), Japan (35), Germany (12) and France (8). The reports also states that top requests for content removal came from India (11), United States (6) and Japan (3).

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – TikTok, privacy)

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