The TikTok ‘exclusion act’ of 2022

Magic Washer Detergent…  “TikTok must go”

 

Following a move conducted by the executive branch, Congress recently moved forward banning the use of TikTok on federal government devices. The purported ban was declared necessary by officials due to national security concerns about the China-based owner of the app, ByteDance. State Universities in Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, and Alabama have also imposed similar bans on TikTok.

TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberweter said that the move was “a political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests.” The U.S. government is not the first country to ban the social media app; TikTok has been banned in Indonesia and India. In both instances, the ban was temporary and was implemented in the wake of political and border disputes.

At the technological center of the controversy is a report from software researcher Felix Krause. This report identified the JavaScript Code which has been alleged to “harvest information so that they can use it to sell targeting advertising,” said Roland Tellis of Dallas-based Baron & Budd, who filed the motion.

According to software engineer Felix Krause, other in-app browsers which deploy the data-gathering JavaScript code include Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, RobinHood, Amazon, and Google Chrome. Data gathering for targeted marketing is the essence of Google’s business model. Yet Chrome and other third-party browsers were excluded from the study on the grounds that they used JavaScript to offer some of its functionality, such as a password manager.

What Instagram shared with TikTok was the inclusion of a coding instance called addEventlisteners. This command tracks the user’s activity while on the app. The functional purpose of this command is to gather information on which channels you have engaged with (generally through likes or subscriptions) so that the app can predict your browsing behavior and use these analytics to adjust for your interests. This phenomenon is a feature which exists in many social media sites and applications. Geo-political arguments aside, what is unique about TikTok data gathering is the keylogging behavior of its code. TikTok is distinct from Instagram in that it includes keypress and keydown in its code, which essentially tells the app to function like a keylogger, while potentially storing sensitive information, the user inputs.

Krause introduced a web tool that lists the JavaScript commands executed by the iOS app, which renders the page. The app is called inappbrowser.com. This app will enable tech users to make a personal determination as to their online security, sans the geopolitical and cultural baggage which otherwise motivates governments to make these decisions for us.

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