- Early Monday, TikTok announced that it would be leaving the Hong Kong market over fears regarding China’s new national security law, which would require the company to hand over user data.
- Later in the day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News that the U.S. is “looking at” banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok.
- The Chinese-owned app has long been accused of giving data to the Chinese Communist Party, which it has repeatedly denied.
- If put in place, an American ban would just be the latest national-restriction against TikTok. India banned the app on July 1 over similar fears that it gave away user data to Chinese authorities.
Could TikTok Face an American Ban?
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News Monday night that the United States was “looking at” banning Chinese social media apps, including the popular video-sharing app TikTok.
When speaking to host Laura Ingraham about potential plans to restrict the app, Pompeo said, “We’re taking this very seriously, but we’re certainly looking at it. We’ve worked on this very issue for a long time.”
“With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cellphones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too,” he added.
Despite his claims, there haven’t been any concrete efforts made public yet. Still, when asked if he’d recommend for people to download TikTok, the Secretary of State replied, “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
TikTok has adamantly claimed that despite its parent company ByteDance being based in China, TikTok itself isn’t controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, nor does it have deep ties with the party.
The app claims that the executives and managers who actually make decisions about its business and make its content rules are all outside of China. The company also states that Chinese authorities have no say in what is and isn’t allowed on the app, and lastly, that user data isn’t stored in China.
American authorities doubt these claims, as the company is owned by ByteDance, which is based in China and like most large Chinese companies, is thought to have close ties to the ruling Communist Party. Adding to the fuel that TikTok complies with Chinese authorities is the fact that ByteDance also owns its sister company, Douyin, which is essentially a Chinese version of TikTok.
A U.S. ban would be a massive loss for the company, which is home to some of its biggest creators. The app has also faced hurdles in India, where a ban went into effect on July 1 that blocked TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps. The nation of over 1 billion is among its largest markets.
Australia has also floated the idea of banning the platform over concerns it inappropriately shares data with the Chinese government.
Pulling Out of Hong Kong
Aside from promising that it isn’t controlled by Chinese authorities, TikTok has also made recent moves to distance itself from the country. Hours before Pompeo spoke to Fox News, TikTok announced that it would be pulling out of the Hong Kong market over fears about a sweeping national security law imposed on the city by China on June 29.
According to TikTok, the app would be inoperable within Hong Kong in a few days. Additionally, it wouldn’t process data requests from China or Hong Kong police, although some current residents already say they can’t download the app.
Hong Kong authorities used the new national security law to release strict new rules regarding online posts. If police suspect an “electronic message” endangers “national security,” they can ask the publisher, platform, host, or network provider to remove or restrict access to it. Those who publish messages and don’t comply face a $100,000 fine and upwards of six months in jail.
Users who actually make the posts face a similar fine and up to a year in jail.
According to multiple reports, the rules explicitly allow authorities to jail employees at internet companies that don’t reply, regardless if they’re based in Hong Kong or not. It should be noted that punishment would only be applicable if one was to actually travel to Hong Kong or China, as most nations wouldn’t comply with another country claiming extraterritorial authority.
However, it still puts companies in an awkward position; comply with Chinese authorities and face backlash for caving on free speech, or disregard the rules and potentially risk employee safety and losing market access.
It wasn’t just TikTok that responded to the new rules, other tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Twitter all said they would temporarily halt data requests from Hong Kong authorities as they decide what to do in the long run. All three had spokespeople and statements that were remarkably similar.
A Facebook spokesperson told Reuters, “We are pausing the review of government requests for user data from Hong Kong pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts.”
“We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions,” the statement continued.
Even though at face value it may seem like a hollow gesture, considering the fact that these companies are banned in China, it’s actually a big risk to a massive revenue stream. All three of those companies have major advertiser programs in China.
While they debate whether to comply with the law or not, it’s interesting to note that TikTok went further than the rest by actually pulling services out of the city. That might be because Hong Kong wasn’t a huge market for the company.
It consistently lost them money and only about 150,000 Hong Kongers used the app. Another facet that may limit the impact of “losing” Hong Kong is that TikTok’s sister app, Douyin, is still usable and popular in Hong Kong, despite not officially being available in the city.
See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Schools Across the U.S. Cancel Classes Friday Over Unverified TikTok Threat
Officials in multiple states said they haven’t found any credible threats but are taking additional precautions out of an abundance of safety.
Schools in no fewer than 10 states either canceled classes or increased their police presence on Friday after a series of TikToks warned of imminent shooting and bombs threats.
Despite that, officials said they found little evidence to suggest the threats are credible. It’s possible no real threat was actually ever made as it’s unclear if the supposed threats originated on TikTok, another social media platform, or elsewhere.
“We handle even rumored threats with utmost seriousness, which is why we’re working with law enforcement to look into warnings about potential violence at schools even though we have not found evidence of such threats originating or spreading via TikTok,” TikTok’s Communications team tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Still, given the uptick of school shootings in the U.S. in recent years, many school districts across the country decided to respond to the rumors. According to The Verge, some districts in California, Minnesota, Missouri, and Texas shut down Friday.
“Based on law enforcement interviews, Little Falls Community Schools was specifically identified in a TikTok post related to this threat,” one school district in Minnesota said in a letter Thursday. “In conversations with local law enforcement, the origins of this threat remain unknown. Therefore, school throughout the district is canceled tomorrow, Friday, December 17.”
In Gilroy, California, one high school that closed its doors Friday said it would reschedule final exams that were expected to take place the same day to January.
According to the Associated Press, several other districts in Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Montana, New York, and Pennsylvania stationed more police officers at their schools Friday.
Viral Misinformation or Legitimate Warnings?
As The Verge notes, “The reports of threats on TikTok may be self-perpetuating.”
For example, many of the videos online may have been created in response to initial warnings as more people hopped onto the trend. Amid school cancellations, videos have continued to sprout up — many awash with both rumors and factual information.
“I’m scared off my ass, what do I do???” one TikTok user said in a now-deleted video, according to People.
“The post is vague and not directed at a specific school, and is circulating around school districts across the country,” Chicago Public Schools said in a letter, though it did not identify any specific post. “Please do not re-share any suspicious or concerning posts on social media.”
According to Dr. Amy Klinger, the director of programs for the nonprofit Educator’s School Safety Network, “This is not 2021 phenomenon.”
Instead, she told The Today Show that her network has been tracking school shooting threats since 2013, and she noted that in recent years, they’ve become more prominent on social media.
“It’s not just somebody in a classroom of 15 people hearing someone make a threat,” she said. “It’s 15,000 people on social media, because it gets passed around and it becomes larger and larger and larger.”
Jake Paul Says He “Can’t Get Cancelled” as a Boxer
The controversial YouTuber opened up about what it has been like to go from online fame to professional boxing.
The New Yorker Profiles Jake Paul
YouTuber and boxer Jake Paul talked about his career switch, reputation, and cancel culture in a profile published Monday in The New Yorker.
While Paul rose to fame as the Internet’s troublemaker, he now spends most of his time in the ring. He told the outlet that one difference between YouTube and boxing is that his often controversial reputation lends better to his new career.
“One thing that is great about being a fighter is, like, you can’t get cancelled,” Paul said. The profile noted that the sport often rewards and even encourages some degree of bad behavior.
“I’m not a saint,” Paul later continued. “I’m also not a bad guy, but I can very easily play the role.”
Paul also said the other difference between his time online and his time in boxing is the level of work. While he says he trains hard, he confessed that there was something more challenging about making regular YouTube content.
“Being an influencer was almost harder than being a boxer,” he told The New Yorker. “You wake up in the morning and you’re, like, Damn, I have to create fifteen minutes of amazing content, and I have twelve hours of sunlight.”
Jake Paul Vs. Tommy Fury
The New Yorker profile came just after it was announced over the weekend Paul will be fighting boxer Tommy Fury in an 8-round cruiserweight fight on Showtime in December.
“It’s time to kiss ur last name and ur family’s boxing legacy goodbye,” Paul tweeted. “DEC 18th I’m changing this wankers name to Tommy Fumbles and celebrating with Tom Brady.”
Both Paul and Fury are undefeated, according to ESPN. Like Paul, Fury has found fame outside of the sport. He has become a reality TV star in the U.K. after appearing on the hit show “Love Island.”
See what others are saying: (The New Yorker) (Dexerto) (ESPN)
Hackers Hit Twitch Again, This Time Replacing Backgrounds With Image of Jeff Bezos
The hack appears to be a form of trolling, though it’s possible that the infiltrators were able to uncover a security flaw while reviewing Twitch’s newly-leaked source code.
Hackers targeted Twitch for a second time this week, but rather than leaking sensitive information, the infiltrators chose to deface the platform on Friday by swapping multiple background images with a photo of former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
According to those who saw the replaced images firsthand, the hack appears to have mostly — and possibly only — affected game directory headers. Though the incident appears to be nothing more than a surface-level prank, as Amazon owns Twitch, it could potentially signal greater security flaws.
For example, it’s possible the hackers could have used leaked internal security data from earlier this week to discover a network vulnerability and sneak into the platform.
The latest jab at the platforms came after Twitch assured its users it has seen “no indication” that their login credentials were stolen during the first hack. Still, concerns have remained regarding the potential for others to now spot cracks in Twitch’s security systems.
It’s also possible the Bezos hack resulted from what’s known as “cache poisoning,” which, in this case, would refer to a more limited form of hacking that allowed the infiltrators to manipulate similar images all at once. If true, the hackers likely would not have been able to access Twitch’s back end.
The photo changes only lasted several hours before being returned to their previous conditions.
First Twitch Hack
Despite suspicions and concerns, it’s unclear whether the Bezos hack is related to the major leak of Twitch’s internal data that was posted to 4chan on Wednesday.
That leak exposed Twitch’s full source code — including its security tools — as well as data on how much Twitch has individually paid every single streamer on the platform since August 2019.
It also revealed Amazon’s at least partially developed plans for a cloud-based gaming library, codenamed Vapor, which would directly compete with the massively popular library known as Steam.
Even though Twitch has said its login credentials appear to be secure, it announced Thursday that it has reset all stream keys “out of an abundance of caution.” Users are still being urged to change their passwords and update or implement two-factor authentication if they haven’t already.