TikTok: After Four Months of Investigation, the Senate Castigates the Lack of Transparency of the Application

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TikTok: After four months of investigation, the Senate castigates the lack of transparency of the application

BAD TACTIC: The Senate released this Thursday the conclusions of its commission of inquiry called “The TikTok Tactic: opacity, addiction and Chinese Shadows”

  • “The TikTok Tactic: Opacity, Addiction and Chinese Shadows”. Here is the name of the Commission of inquiry meeting in the Senate this Thursday to make the conclusions around the interference of the Chinese social network.
  • After four months of investigation, the senators showed an opaque system on several scales.
  • They are now asking the application for more transparency, otherwise, the platform could be banned in France on January 1, 2024.

In the family of unmanageable social networks, the Senate asks for the little sister, TikTok. The young application launched in 2016 now has 20 billion users, including 20 million in France. But the problem is that the popularity of the platform – especially among the youngest – has not motivated the parent company ByteDance to become more transparent, despite the multiple alerts. This is at least the conclusion of the commission of inquiry published this Thursday by the Senate. Named “The TikTok tactic: opacity, addiction and shadow puppets” , the nearly 200-page report is the result of four months of investigation highlighting many issues around the platform.

First, its proximity to China, the country where the application was born, but also to the Chinese regime. “Companies in the digital economy are key players in the strategies of influence led by China”, specifies the report, which even speaks here of a “strategy of ‘cognitive warfare'”. Behind this manipulation of a State, there would indeed be a risk of the massive collection of data , but also of control of society and leaders. In the United States, several journalists have for example been spied on by the application, without TikTk being able to provide concrete answers on the destination of the data.

TikTok turns a deaf ear

This is the conclusion to be drawn from this report: TikTok shines with its opacity. However, transparency is constantly praised by the social network, notes the senator and rapporteur for the commission of inquiry Claude Malhuret. “During the survey, we were all struck by the great use of the term transparency, we had the impression that it was a leitmotif of the social network to describe itself”. On the contrary, the social network would in no way be decipherable from the outside. Last December, the Audiovisual and Digital Communication Regulatory Authority (Arcom)had on this subject pinned TikTok regretting “incomplete answers” ​​from the application. And despite the multiple hearings, TikTok does not cooperate and refuses to give so many details about its organization.

During their hearings with senators, TikTok representatives denied any connection to China. At the management level, certain roles had also remained opaque. This is the case of Zhao Tian, ​​then leader of TikTok France and also vice-president of the Chinese application Toutiao, a subsidiary of Douyin [the TikTok present in China]. “The person you quote has absolutely no role in the company and I have never met him. The function of the president has no legal consequences, no consequences on the way in which the group is managed ”, assured the director of public affairs of TikTok France Eric Garandeau during his hearing. But the mystery, after the hearing, the replacement of Zhao Tian by a European official was finally announced.

Internationally, TikTok presents ByteDance as an American, and even international, application. It is even registered in the Cayman Islands, the second-largest tax haven in the world. “Advocating transparency by settling in the Cayman Islands is not very credible,” says Senator Claude Malhuret ironically.

Data that travels incognito

Unsurprisingly, the app has also come under fire for its large, equally opaque data collection. “TikTok circulates a lot of this data stored on servers based in the United States, Malaysia and Singapore,” the report said. Its algorithm would manage to collect a certain amount of information about its users. In addition to her identity, she would deduce characteristics never defined at registration, such as the psychological profile. An element contrary to European regulations defined by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Moreover, the opacity of data has multiple consequences. In addition to not knowing where they are traded around the world, some players point to the limit on the financing of artists, for example, as reported by the Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers (SACEM) in 2022.

The ultimatum is issued

Beyond its lack of opacity on all fronts, the commission of inquiry warns of the public health issue that TikTok now represents. Among 4-18 year olds, users would spend an average of 1h47 on the application and psychologists underline the risk of “addiction” to the application, even “dullness”. Psychological disorders are also multiple, including sleep or attention. Moreover, some content can even be dangerous on the application, especially for vulnerable people. Examples abound. In 2021, for example, a 10-year-old child died of asphyxiation in Italy while following a TikTok challenge that looked like a scarf game.

And like many apps, TikTok lacks sufficient control over the age limit. The figure is also staggering: 45% of 11-12 are registered on TikTok while the application is prohibited for children under 13 and the digital majority in France is set at 15 years old. To protect minors, the Senate has drawn up a number of proposals, including blocking the application after 60 minutes and a more efficient age verification system, also in the new bill to “Securing and regulating digital space”, adopted Wednesday in the Senate. “More effective” moderation is also desired among the 21 recommendations.

In its conclusions, the Commission of inquiry invites the application to clarify the nature of its links with the Chinese authorities. If necessary, the Senate proposes to the government to “suspend TikTok in France”, but also within the European Union, if the situation is not rectified by January 1, 2024.