Monday, June 5, 2023

How TikTok Still Accessing Indian Data If Banned in 2020

Nearly three years after TikTok’s biggest market, India banned the Chinese-owned social media app over geopolitical tensions, officials at the company and its Beijing-based parent ByteDance continue to have access to reams of data. TikTok, Forbes has learned.

The announcement comes as US President Joe Biden’s administration plans to block the platform for more than 100 million Americans if the Chinese owner of TikTok doesn’t sell its stake. Top US government officials see a blanket ban on TikTok as a possible solution to the country’s national security concerns about China’s surveillance or the possibility of abuse by Americans. Some have called India a “leading star,” urging the US to follow suit.

“I do not think” [los indios] feel the amount of data that China is now exposed to, even with the ban in place,” a TikTok employee told Forbes.

According to an employee and internal software review of TikTok and ByteDance by Forbes, granular data on former TikTok users in India can be retrieved and analyzed by almost anyone at the company with basic access to the media. (ByteDance has more than 110,000 employees around the world, including in China and Russia, but it laid off all its Indian staff last month.) Another source also independently confirmed to us that Indian data is accessible since the app’s country is banned.

The social media tool – which an employee jokingly called TikTok “NSA-To-Go” – can make a list of any public or private user’s closest connections on TikTok and personally identifiable information about them, and still pull out profiles. TikTok by people in India, according to Forbes review. A TikToker staff can enter a unique identifier or UID, a string of numbers combined with detailed information about a person, to retrieve TikTok users (often first and last names) of hundreds of friends and acquaintances; the country in which they live; and how they share TikTok content with their phone contacts and users of other social platforms. The same UID can be used in TikTok and other internal ByteDance media to get more information about a person, including their search behavior. A TikTok employee described it as a key to “extensive digital files” on any user, including those with private accounts.

Neither company would say whether TikTok continues to use data from its former users in India.

“We have fully complied and continue to fully comply with the Government of India’s order since it took effect,” TikTok spokesman Jason Grosse said in an email. “All user data is subject to our internal policies regarding access, retention and deletion.” ByteDance did not respond to a request for comment.

India’s proposed 2020 ban appears to have been aimed at preventing public access to TikTok in the country in the future, given concerns about the possibility of the app sending data it has collected on Indian users to China. (Nikhil Gandhi, then head of TikTok in India, said at the time that TikTok had “not shared any data from our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese government.” The ban does not appear to require the app’s deletion of data already captured and stored.

As a result, the profiles of Indian users who once used TikTok can still be found online, since their owners failed to post the ban after 2020. The company declined to say how many Indian accounts can be seen on the internal device, but TikTok had about 150 million active users at the time of the shutdown, according to data analytics firm Sensor Tower. Data from this tool seems to be growing over time for users in India, while in other countries, like the US, where TikTok is spreading, it is updated in real time.

A current TikTok employee told Forbes that anyone with almost basic access to the company’s tools — including employees in China — could easily look up close contacts and other sensitive information about any user. According to an employee and Forbes review tool, this includes everyone from prominent public figures to the average citizen. In the wrong hands, the employee noted, the information was dangerous.

“From” [sus gráficos sociales]If you want to start a movement, if you want to divide people, if you want to do something to move the audience on the app, just use that information to target those groups,” they said. This powerful demographic data, especially in TikTok’s unmatched Gen Z user base, could also be valuable to the business is used, the employee is added.

Apart from India, company-wide access to the tool in this way is highly unlikely in the context of geopolitical competition. According to a TikTok employee and internal material obtained by Forbes, the tool was able to obtain user data from Ukraine and Russia, including details of when they were on the app. Although there are no known reasons why this tool or others on TikTok have been used against foreign adversaries, such information could endanger the safety of both soldiers and civilians.

“When an authoritarian country like China can accumulate a large amount of information about the citizens of a foreign country, that raises all the red flags,” Glenn Gerstell, former general counsel at the National Security Agency, told Forbes. In his opinion, although in practice it is difficult for China to turn this information into a weapon, “it raises absolute concerns and increases tensions.” [y] and given them in a place where they might be hurt. And the threat is clear.

TikTok has already used its arsenal of tools to target people and networks. In December, a Forbes investigation revealed that ByteDance had been investigating several journalists covering the company’s information, accessing their IP addresses and other data to find out which ByteDance employees might be in close proximity to them and potentially leak information. The company vehemently denied that report until its own internal investigation proved it to be true, sparking fears across the United States that this type of surveillance could be practiced on Americans in general. The FBI and Justice Department are now investigating ByteDance’s use of TikTok to spy on journalists, as Forbes first reported. The White House also ordered federal agencies to remove TikTok from the devices of public employees before the end of this month.

TikTok’s detention of Indian data shows why, in the US, a consensual deal between TikTok and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States could be much more effective than a ban, Gerstell said. (CFIUS and TikTok have been in talks since 2019 about an agreement to address national security concerns about the app.) He said that CFIUS could largely block historical data, which India’s ban doesn’t appear to do, and that the U.S. government would have the ability to set limits on what happens to data from Americans in the past. and given to the present. Although a consensual agreement could not guarantee that China would not find access to such ancient data, it could offer other safeguards, he explained.

“If there is a ban – which is the same in India – we can no longer have them from the data,” said Gertstell. “Whatever data is up to the time of the ban, it from TikTok, from ByteDance … and we do not have a legal basis, if we do everything, we ban it, to tell you what I will do.” The process is even more complicated if the data is already stored outside the jurisdiction of the US.

“Politicians and people who bang the table when they talk about bans think they’re solving the problem,” Forbes said, “and they’re not.”

Nation World News Desk
Nation World News Desk
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