US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Chris Wray said last week, that the hugely popular social media app TikTok is a threat to US national security. According to an expert at the Estonian Information System Authority (RIA), if TikTok is absolutely necessary for work, a separate smart device should be used.
FBI Chief Wray explained last week, that the Chinese government could use video-sharing platform TikTok to collect data on millions of users, or control recommendation algorithms, which can then be used to influence people. In August, Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat also described how the TikTok app comes with a built-in web browser which, on Apple's iPhone phones, tracks users' every click and swipe.
The Estonian Information System Authority (RIA) banned its employees from using TikTok on work phones two years ago. When doing so, RIA also informed the IT departments of other state agencies and ministries of the decision. However, the agency cannot directly ban anyone from using the application.
"We have communicated our concerns and reasoning openly to the public and other public authorities," said Tõnu Tammer, head of RIA's Cyber Incident Reporting Team (CERT-EE). If TikTok does need to be used for some reason, and some government agencies have to use it for their work, our recommendation has been very clear. A separate smart device should be used for the purpose of communicating on TikTok," said
"As far as the general public is concerned, there is no one in Estonia, apart from the courts, who can ask for the removal of an app from a manufacturer's store," Tammer added.
According to Tammer, the problem with TikTok is that the app's data is stored outside the European Union, where it can then be accessed by employees in China, for example.
"This is not just a question of TikTok, it is a question of the wider Chinese legal framework and the implications that has on the modern-day services that come from there. TikTok is just one example," said Tammer.
"Since 2017, China has had a 'spying law,' which obliges everyone, Chinese citizens and companies alike, to cooperate with the state. They have an obligation to share data if the state asks for it. As our American colleagues have pointed out, the platform can (also) be used to direct users to content that they might never normally see," Tammer explained.
The RIA encourages smartphone users to carefully check the permissions which apps ask for before downloading them to their devices. If, for example, something as banal as a flashlight app asks for access to your personal contacts or images, downloading it onto your phone is probably not such a great idea.
Editor: Michael Cole