TikTok Data Questions


TikTok is insanely popular. If you haven’t downloaded the app yet, here’s a warning: Be prepared! TikTok is wildly addictive. No matter your age, your stage, how jaded you are… resistance is futile. You will become addicted to TikTok within minutes. Then, the app will begin its symbiotic relationship with your brain, and then… it’s over. You will become a full-fledged TikTok addict and, as far as I know, there is no cure.

The remarkable (and addictive, did I mention that?) qualities of TikTok’s AI are not the focus of US regulators’ questions. They are seeking clarity on a far more generic issue: data. CFIUS (the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States) wants assurances that ByteDance (the Chinese company that owns TikTok) is storing data obtained from US citizens safely and securely in the US. Said differently, CFIUS wants to make sure the Chinese aren’t using American teenagers as lab rats.

ByteDance is doing what it can to convince CFIUS that it has ringfenced US TikTok data in the US. They even hired an outside consultant to audit their data governance and data hygiene policies. TikTok has been hiring US-based engineers, and the company seems to be doing everything it can to demonstrate that the Chinese government does not have access to data generated from TikTok usage in the US. (There is a great deal of agenda-driven press coverage of this subject. Choose the facts you like from other sources.)

I love TikTok. I am in a 12-step program to wean myself off of it. (No, I have never posted, and I have no plans to do so.) But… if CFIUS is worried about the data, they are worried about the wrong thing. In this case, it’s the AI they should be worried about. Yes, data feeds the AI. Yes, the more data it gets, the more it learns. But… once the AI “knows” you, you will be able to be identified by your other online behaviors.

This may sound like science fiction or the rantings of a lunatic, but I am absolutely sure that the machine intelligence systems my company is working with will evolve to be able to correlate both active and passive data generated as “exhaust” from actions like search, game play, shopping, keystroke timing, scroll speed, etc., to identify (with very high accuracy) who is doing what.

Ensuring that TikTok keeps its data in the US may have zero impact on the larger issue: Can the Chinese government (or anyone else for that matter) use the addictive qualities of TikTok (or any app or device tuned by endorphin-sensing) for nefarious purposes?

Just something to think about about over the holiday weekend.


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Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

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