TikTok has claimed that the Chinese government made zero requests for user information or content removal in six months of 2019.
India and American governments made the most requests for access to user data and content removal in the first six months of 2019.
The inaugural transparency report from TikTok comes as sllegations of spying and privacy grow, but TikTok claims the Communist Party of China did not make a single request of this nature.
But privacy advocate Paul Bischoff says it would be naive to assume TikTok is beyond China’s censorship.
He slammed the report as disingenuous and and says the app has repeatedly removed content and banned accounts of users critical of the Chinese government.
Owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance and based in Beijing, the app claims that in the first six months of 2019 it did not receive a single request from the Communist Party of China (file photo)
WHAT IS TIKTOK?
Tik Tok is a Chinese social media app where users can live stream, create short videos and music videos and Gifs with a host of functions.
Tik Tok’s tagline is ‘Make every second count’.
It was the most downloaded app in the US in 2018 and the world’s fourth most downloaded app in 2018, ahead of Instagram and Snapchat.
TikTok is known in China as Douyin where it was launched in 2016 and then made more widely available around the world in 2017.
Douyin is still the version of the app used in China, available to download separately to TikTok.
Last year, the app was merged with popular music video lip-syncing app Musical.ly, also with headquarters in China.
Most children use the app to film themselves lip-syncing to chart hits.
It offers users a raft if colourful modification and editing tools including overlaying music, sound, animated stickers, filters and augmented reality (AR) for creating short videos.
The Beijing based social network has more than 500 million active users and the company is now worth more than $75 billion (£58 billion).
TikTok is blocked in China, but the government would be entitled to make any requests for data, to further criminal investigations.
Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate at Comparitech.com, told MailOnline: ‘TikTok has, on several occasions, removed content and banned accounts of users critical of the Chinese government.
‘The transparency report is disingenuous. The US and India top the list because they went through official channels to have content removed or to get information about users.
‘Just because TikTok says it didn’t receive any such requests from Chinese authorities doesn’t mean it isn’t censoring content and users on China’s behalf.
‘It would be very naive to assume TikTok, a Chinese-owned entity, is beyond China’s influence.’
Its inaugural transparency report details requests from nations around the world requesting various things, including removal of content which breaches local laws.
US-based law enforcement agencies made 79 requests between January 1 and June 30, for user data access, including six requests for content removal. Most of these (86 per cent) were approved by TikTok.
India topped the list with 107 total requests.
The United Kingdom and Australia only made six and five requests, respectively. None of these were granted by TikTok.
The video-sharing app exploded on the scene in 2019 and its popularity was only matched by the amount of scandals it became embroiled in.
Owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, the app claims that in the first six months of 2019 it did not receive a single request from the Communist Party of China.
TikTok said alongside the publication of the figures: ‘Government bodies sometimes request that we remove content they deem to be a violation of local laws.
‘We review such requests closely and evaluate the specified content in accordance with our Community Guidelines and local laws.’
A table revealing all the complaints was accompanied by a prominent note, stating ‘TikTok did not receive any government requests to remove or restrict content from countries other than those on the list above’.
China was not among the countries claimed to have made requests for content removal.
The report comes at a time where the app is under fire from countries around the world, notably the US, over its close connections to the Chinese government.
Spying concerns similar to those of technology firm Huawei have arisen in the wake of TikTok’s rise to viral prominence.
This week, the US Army banned soldiers from using TikTok amid concerns that Chinese-owned app could be collecting American users’ personal data.
The Army announced that the app was no longer allowed on government phones on Monday because it is considered a cyber threat.
|Country||Government Requests||Accounts Removed or Restricted||Content Removed or Restricted|
US-based law enforcement agencies made 79 requests between January 1 and June 30, for user data access, including six requests for content removal. Most (86 per cent) were approved by TikTok
Army recruiters began using TikTok last year as a means to reach young people and were still using it as of two months ago, despite calls from lawmakers to conduct a national security review.
Eric Ebenstein, TikTok’s head of public policy, wrote in a blog post: ‘Like all global internet platforms, TikTok is subject to a variety of laws and regulations in each country.
‘Occasionally we are presented with requests from various official bodies in the countries where the TikTok app operates, such as government agencies or law enforcement officials, asking us to take certain actions at their behest.
‘These include requests to take down content deemed to be in violation of local laws, or to provide information related to accounts under certain defined circumstances, such as to assist in a criminal investigation or emergency request.’
Mr Ebenstein added that the report includes the breakdown of 298 legal requests for information from 28 countries over the 6-month period.
A balancing act is then conducted in-house, Mr Ebenstein continues, to weigh up ‘responsibilities to law enforcement with our respect for the privacy of our users’ and determine what, if any, action is required.
He adds: ‘It also shows how we responded to the 26 requests to remove or restrict content from government bodies in 9 countries, as well as how we handled content copyright take-down requests to help copyright holders protect their intellectual property.’
TiKTok says it also plans to release reports regularly, presumably at six-month intervals.