Here's the Deal with TikTok and Security Risks

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Some days, the headlines really do sound like MadLibs. This week, chatter has been growing about whether U.S. foreign policy is going to crack down on… a social media website beloved of teens and olds alike. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has even gone so far as to say the app could be banned in the United States. It's a stranger-than-usual time to be a fan of TikTok.


The latest development is that Amazon, which employs half a million people in the U.S., has asked its employees to remove TikTok from any phone which accesses an Amazon email address. This follows the recent revelation of a security flaw in which TikTok was accessing anything mobile phone users had saved in their clipboard, like a phrase, a URL, or even a password. Ordinarily, this kind of breach might be chalked up to yet another extractive and exploitive Silicon Valley sleight of hand. This time, however, national security is allegedly involved.

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TikTok is owned by a Chinese company; the app is called Douyin in China. The Trump administration has been pressing a trade war with China for most of its term so far. While the Chinese government is far from a benevolent actor on the world stage, clashes with China often come up in the news when we should pay attention to something else. Data breaches are, unfortunately, the rule and not the exception anymore. While you should listen to guidance from companies and experts, it's also important to see the wider context of any conversation.