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U.S. politicians express national security concerns over Tik Tok app

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Tik Tok

(WKOW/CNN) -- There are renewed security concerns over TikTok, the popular short-video app with more than two billion downloads worldwide.

While the Chinese company that owns TikTok, ByteDance, doesn't operate in China and functions independently, policy-makers are still worried that it could be forced to hand over its data on U.S. users to the Chinese government under the country's national security laws.

Within the last week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that they are "looking at" banning TikTok and other Chinese apps. India banned the use of the app country-wide and the U.S. Armed Forces have also banned the use of the app on government-issued phones.

Don Stanley, a professor in digital marketing at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, says the concerns about the Chinese government are valid, but the potential threat may not be imminent at this point.

"China has a long history of using different technologies to mine data, and then over the long term use that data to be able to track people be able to send out messages that might be relevant or salient to them," said Stanley.

TikTok has said repeatedly that its data centers are not located in China, and that the app isn't available for use in the country. The company's CEO is also a former Disney executive.

While many experts say they don't think the app would be a tool for espionage, Stanley says he has concerns that if China were to access that personal data somehow, it could use it to influence future U.S. elections.

"You now have young people who are not a voting age being able to influence politics in a way that has never been done before," said Stanley. "So there's a lot of moving parts here that make it really really interesting and unique."

Stanley also said that as concerns grow, it might be possible for an American-based company to work on a similar app.

"Facebook's famous for taking technology that already exists, like Snapchat and then integrating it into something like Instagram," he said. " I'm very interested to see, 'Will Facebook or another platform try to capitalize on things that TikTok offers to try to create an American version of that technology?'"

In the end, if users or parents are concerned about their personal data, Stanley recommends being aware of who you're talking to and what you're sharing on any app. This is especially important now, as more people are at home and using more social media apps as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

"Just being cognizant of that, and having a conversation with your kids about usage and trying to help monitor and make sure that there's a healthy balance in terms of use of any technology," he said.

Sara Maslar-Donar

Reporter, WKOW 27 News

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