Is TikTok dangerous?

60% of TikTok users are between the ages of 16 and 24

Parents of young TikTok users may have concerns about the Chinese-owned mobile video app in light of recent news.

But is there really a reason to worry?

The main concerns surrounding the app with an estimated 800 million users, about 60 percent of whom are between the ages of 16 and 24, are its ties to the Chinese government and the security and surveillance apprehensions that come with those ties.

"Companies in China have to hand over any information at any time to the Chinese government," Muneeb Ali, CEO of decentralized computing network and app ecosystem Blockstack, told FOX Business.

Chinese tech giant ByteDance launched TikTok on Apple devices in 2017 after the popular, U.S.-based, six-second video app Vine shut down in 2016 following its struggle to make money. Vine and YouTube users flocked to TikTok, and the app's popularity exploded between 2018 and 2019.


A 2017 Chinese law introduced by President Xi Jinping states that "any organization and citizen" shall "support and cooperate in national intelligence work," according to Foreign Policy magazine.

Ali said he downloads all the apps he uses that request microphone access on a phone separate from the one he uses regularly to communicate because even apps that aren't developed in foreign countries can get access to "all communication, even if your phone is in your pocket."

He added that people are trusting of U.S.-made apps and software because they operate under certain laws that make them seem more reliable to the average smartphone user. But this trust has caused people to become comfortable with signing off on privacy notices without reading the whole thing, Ali explained.

"We have these viral applications that people are installing without realizing what they’re signing up for," he said. "The root of the issue is this model of people just handing over data."

"You need to hand over your data and identifying information to random companies on the internet. TikTok highlights this because of Chinese ownership but the problem is much deeper. Luckily new technologies like Web 3 and decentralized apps are built for privacy and user ownership. A decentralized version of TikTok is something I can use. It’d have all the fun and memes and no negative effects of data leaks," he explained.

Lawmakers and leaders within the tech industry have been critical of the app for this reason. The U.S. government opened an investigation into TikTok in November. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) called the video app "China's best detective."

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a congressional leader in regulating big tech and holding it accountable for ethics violations, explained congressional disconcertment regarding the app.

"Here's the problem: It's owned by a Chinese company, and under Chinese law, that means the Communist Party has access to all of the data that TikTok scoops up," he said in December. "And it scoops up a lot, like your phone book, like what you do on your phone, it tracks you around the web, maybe your text messages. It's dangerous."

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman called TikTok "spyware" at a one-day conference called "Social 2030" on Thursday, saying, "I look at that app as so fundamentally parasitic — that it’s always listening. The fingerprinting technology they use is truly terrifying, and I could not bring myself to install an app like that on my phone."


He added that he "actively" tells people not to install the app on their phones.

Reddit Inc. co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman speaks during a hearing with the House Communications and Technology and House Commerce Subcommittees on Capitol Hill on Oct. 16, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, has tried to minimize attention on its China connections after lawmakers of both parties asked the intelligence community to examine the national security risks associated with the app. The company released a TikTok "transparency report" on Dec. 30.

"The Chinese government has never asked us to provide access to any TikTok U.S. user data, and we would not do so if asked," a ByteDance spokesman told The Wall Street Journal.

But aside from its potential security risks, TikTok may not pose a direct and serious threat to young users who post videos of themselves singing, dancing and performing inexplicably funny skits.

"For people to begin to accuse this app and want to shut it down, I believe it's so premature," TikTok user Frankie Lagana, 22, previously told FOX Business. "I think this app is so brand new. ... I see it as an app that is really monumental and ahead of its time, showing people that media can be processed quicker. When it comes to data mining what are they going to mine, my birthday?"

Ali argued that people "don’t realize how valuable their data is" and how often it's tracked and sold from an app to a third-party company for information.

"I don’t know for sure if it’s an immediate threat, but I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable if my family members have it on their devices," he added.

Users could, however, be exposed to material from bad actors.

The Wall Street Journal reported in October that the Islamic State was posting since-deleted videos to the app in its effort to get the attention of a younger audience and potentially recruit new members. The videos were edited to be youth-friendly, with heart filters, emojis and music. The findings highlighted concerns that young users could be exposed to harmful propaganda on the app.


TikTok has since tried to steer is users away from posting political content; it issued a ban on paid political content in September. The app hired former Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn) and former Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) to help monitor controversial videos posted to its platform.

Major companies, celebrities and even news outlets don't appear to be too concerned about the app's potential security risks.

There are a ton of major U.S. companies who have TikTok accounts who don't appear concerned about the app's China ties. The Washington Post has its own TikTok account. A huge number of celebrities have TikToks. NBC's "Stay Tuned" mobile app news show has a TikTok. Chipotle, the NFL, the NBA and the San Diego Zoo have TikToks. The list goes on.

While some branches of the U.S. military have banned its members from using the app, the U.S. government, as well as app store owners Apple and Google, have yet to issue outright bans on Tiktok.


This report contains material from previous FOX Business articles.