TikTok Responds: Asks if Anyone Would Mind Telling Them What This is All About

TikTok has now responded to the so-called “concerns” about security and privacy by asking questions about what the government is on about.

As the hand wringing about TikTok continues in the media, it seems that TikTok is learning about all of this just like everyone else: finding out about it in the news. We found out about the original probe announcement on Sunday by privacy commissioners in Canada. The commissioners had only begun to investigate the app and platform itself. Despite them beginning to investigate, it seems that the government and the media have already made up their mind and ran a campaign of guilt upon accusation.

Shortly after the announcement of a start to an investigation, the Canadian federal government announced that it would be banning the app on government issued devices. It’s unclear how an app would have made it onto government devices in the first place or what the app would be used for, but the government made the vague accusation that the app was a security and privacy concern. What are those concerns? If the government knew, they sure aren’t telling you.

Shortly after that announcement, multiple provinces followed suit saying that they are also banning the app on government devices similarly citing security and privacy concerns. Some reports suggested that some entities making the move to ban the app have no evidence that TikTok was doing anything particularly wrong, but rather, it’s just a “precautionary” measure.

Reports have also surfaced that various political parties and politicians are deleting or suspending their accounts in response to all of this. No one seems to really know why, but they are just doing it anyway. In response to those reports, some media outlets are effectively urging the public to follow suit and suspend their accounts and delete the app as well. In an article directed at kids, the CBC was raising the idea that maybe all Canadians should follow suit as well:

Should you delete TikTok?

First off, no one under 13 should have the app, according to TikTok’s own terms of service.

But if you are a TikTok user, you might be thinking about deleting it.

On March 1, Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the federal New Democratic Party (NDP), announced he would deactivate his TikTok account after the federal government ban.

Before deleting his account, Singh had more than 878,000 followers.

Sara Grimes said she deleted the app from her phone just to be safe.

“If we find out that there is nothing to worry about, I’ll put it back on.”

In what is actually a hilarious development, the CBC put up a poll asking Canadian’s if they are considering deleting their TikTok account as well. The results as of this writing? An epic fail of sorts:

No doubt this was not the result the CBC was hoping for. It suggests that the scaremongering is struggling to actually resonate with Canadian’s.

So, the real question is, where is TikTok in all of this? Indeed, TikTok was apparently finally asked by a major media company for comment. In that same article:

A spokesperson from TikTok told CBC Kids News via email that “TikTok has never provided Canadian user data to the Chinese government, nor would we if asked.”

In the same email, the spokesperson said “ByteDance is not Chinese-owned” and is a “private, global company.”

The CBC basically told readers not to believe TikTok with this:

However, TikTok’s headquarters are in Beijing, China.

Again, that isn’t a very strong reason to say that TikTok is doing anything nefarious. It’s just an assumption that there is a connection between ownership location and evidence of wrongdoing. Put it another way, that isn’t evidence to the agenda the media and the government is pushing.

At any rate, TikTok did actually make a public response to all of this. As it turns out, they are just in the dark about these privacy and security “concerns” as everyone else. They have published an open letter asking the government what these security concerns are:

The embedded images can be seen below:

We asked for a text version of this in the Twitter thread, but never got a response. So, we are forced to transcribe the letter. Here’s what we transcribed:

Hon. Mona Fortier
Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada

March 1, 2023

Re: Government of Canada ban of the use of the TikTok application on government-issued mobile devices

Dear Minister Fortier,

I was disappointed to learn that the Government of Canada has decided to block access to TikTok on Government of Canada issued mobile devices. TikTok had not been made aware of your concerns prior to this action being taken, nor were we provided with an opportunity to respond to specific concerns.

In your statement, you wrote that “following a review of TikTok” the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Canada determined that TikTok “presents an unacceptable level of risk to privacy and security.” However, no specific risks were cited other than referencing “concerns about the legal regime that governs the information collected from mobile devices.” To be clear: TikTok’s collection of user information is governed by Canada’s legal regime – specifically, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA).

TikTok welcomes questions about how we protect the safety and privacy of Canadians, but these are questions that should be posed to all digital platforms. In their report on TikTok, the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab determined that “the level of user data collected by TikTok is similar to other major social media platforms” and found “no overt data transmission to the Chinese government by TikTok.” Singling out TikTok does nothing to advance privacy and security of Canadians, and this decision prevents public officials from reaching the public on a platform loved by millions of Canadians.

The impetus and timing for this policy remains unclear, as does the standard applied in making this decision. What threshold was met to justify the blocking of TikTok – and no other platform – from government-issued devices? Suspending only TikTok, without notice, and without the opportunity to refute claims based on media reports seems inconsistent with the Canadian values of good governance and transparency.

I would welcome the opportunity for TikTok’s privacy, security, and public policy experts to meet with you and any other interested Canadian officials to respond to your questions and provide detailed information about our privacy and security practices. We look forward to clarifying any misconceptions about TikTok, resolving your concerns, and continuing to support the Government of Canada in connecting with the dynamic and creative community of Canadian’s on TikTok.

Yours sincerely,


V Pappas
Chief Operating Officer

CC: Catherine Luelo, Chief Information Officer of Canada

(note: the word “only” was in italics, but since the blockquote is already italics, I used bold for emphasis.)

The images also suggest that there was a link that was inserted to reference Citizen Lab making a privacy analysis. We think that it was this link which does match with what the letter was saying:

TikTok and Douyin do not appear to exhibit overtly malicious behaviour similar to those exhibited by malware. We did not observe either app collecting contact lists, recording and sending photos, audio, videos, or geolocation coordinates without user permission.

Our research shows that there is no overt data transmission to the Chinese government by TikTok. In our testing, TikTok did not contact any servers within China. This finding could mean that TikTok’s user data is not stored in China. However, it is also possible that the non-China servers that receive user data transfer them to servers in China afterwards. If any user data is actually stored in China, it increases the likelihood that the Chinese government could gain access to it.

The letter says that China doesn’t have access to that user information and TikTok would not hand that information over if asked.

At any rate, the letter does show that TikTok was never contacted about any of this. Further, TikTok was just like everyone else, learning about all of these “concerns” through the media afterwards. It’s a rather unusual way of conducting any sort of investigation: not even bothering to contact the people being accused in the first place. You already have one investigation that basically turned up nothing nefarious about TikTok, yet you have all of these accusations without evidence to back those accusations up. The government has urged the public to make an informed choice, yet chose not to inform the public about the concerns they have. You well and truly can’t make this up.

Yet, the media just assumes wrongdoing and a vague accusation was good enough for them to assume that TikTok is this overarching nemesis that is terrorizing Canadian’s like no other app or platform has. In public hearings, witnesses have already testified about Chinese interference and cited two different apps: Weibo and WeChat. Yet, we haven’t even come close to seeing similar moves to ban those apps as well.

At the end of the day, the Canadian government owes Canadian’s an explanation. Why was TikTok specifically targeted? What threat did they find that was so unique to TikTok that TikTok had to be singled out out of multiple other apps and platforms out there? What are those safety and security concerns? Why now? Why is the government not being forthcoming about the specific risks and just resorting to vague notions about how ByteDance headquarters is located in China? What makes TikTok different from, say, Facebook, Twitter in regards to security and privacy?

All of the above are valid questions. So far, the Canadian public has gotten no answers. At best, Canadian’s have been left speculating on their own and even the speculation is turning up nothing concrete. The lack of answers is damaging the government’s (and the mainstream media’s for that matter) credibility in all of this. The lack of progress on Bill C-27 is also causing self-inflicted damage on the governments part on top of it all. Like TikTok, we’re asking: what is the government talking about?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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