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Brianna Parkins: I feel sorry for the agent employed to monitor my data

TikTok has given us so much, like the Womblands saga and Rushtok, but what is it taking from us in return?

In the last couple of years TikTok went from an app where tweens posted lip sync videos to Justin Beiber to a collective force encouraging workers to resist capitalism, thanks to “quiet quitting” going viral.

Creators told employees to act their wage and introduced “Bare Minimum Monday” in a bid to stop overextending themselves at work for little or no compensation.

“Fulfil the basic requirements of you job so you don’t get fired and then go home on time” doesn’t sound like revolutionary advice but it was enough to get employers, Forbes and Harvard Business School to sit up and take notice on how this will impact a work culture that traditionally relies on employees going the extra mile to function.

But while TikTok is responsible for the yass-ification of anarcho-syndicalism, it is equally responsible for slow motion Pedro Pascal edits, filters that make cats look like they work at McDonald’s and Will, a lad who made videos about sheep, booking a spot on Love Island.


The platform means you don’t have to seek out creators to follow and hope they’ll serve you up something interesting. Instead, it works out what you like and delivers videos that will make you yell “come look at this babe, it’s a cat who wears a little tie and manages a pet store” across the house three times a day.

This is great for those of us in the chronically online hobgoblin community. TikTok doesn’t reward the contrived, edited and polished like Instagram. It wants real, funny, self-deprecating cringe. That’s why a family-run department store in Newtownards has more than 183,000 followers on the app while Brown Thomas has 2,788.

But while it has given us so much, like the Womblands saga and Rushtok, what is it taking from us in return?

The answer is data and the fear of that data ending up with the Chinese government who could likely compel the Chinese-owned company to share all the tidbits it has collected on users.

A wave of international governments have started banning the app from state owned devices citing cybersecurity fears including the US, UK and New Zealand.

The Dutch interior ministry said it didn’t want government phones to have apps from “countries with an aggressive cyber-programme targeted at the Netherlands or Dutch interests”.

The missive didn’t name TikTok or China, but just in the way that girl from secondary school would post Facebook statuses about “the ones you love will hurt you the most, be careful of snakes x” after breaking up with her boyfriend – we all know who it was about.

When it came to my personal account I was unperturbed. I am not important. I have no state secrets.

Go ahead, I thought initially, not concerned with the potential surveillance threat. What can they do to me from knowing my search history is mainly just the name of a food followed by “can it go in the airfryer?”.

I would feel sorry for the agent employed to monitor my data.

“Oh there she goes again, watching clips featuring interspecies animal friendships for 90 minutes when she said she was too tired to watch an actual movie,” I imagine him saying to himself.

I imagine him looking at my online banking and shaking his head in a “not mad but disappointed” way that I can’t leave the house without buying a small treat for myself.

But in all seriousness what can they see? We’re not 100 per cent sure and the company has previously denied suggestions it logs keystrokes but the latest from the Washington Post suggests the app could be accessing a fair bit of information from your phone.

These include but aren’t limited to your contacts, the camera and video when you’re making videos, location, IP address, web pages you visit outside of TikTok, keystroke patterns – ie what you’re typing – and other mobile apps you use for a start.

These might not seem like a big deal until you think of the ways this information could be applied.

Last year, TikTok’s parent company admitted it had tracked the locations of American journalists via their IP addresses to try to catch employees suspected of leaking or whistleblowing on company practices to the press. Running interference like this seriously damages press freedom and its ability to hold the company accountable in the future. The company claimed it had been the actions of rogue employees who had since been fired.

This week’s Congressional hearings were meant to get answers out of TikTok’s chief executive but ended up revealing that certain elected representatives don’t understand how wifi works. We’ve all had a good chuckle at the incident and a wee reminisce about Fidelma Healy Eames’ “frape” gaffe in 2013 as just another example of a politician trying to get down with the kids and making a panicked mess out of it.

But maybe when we don’t know the exact extent of data being collected and what it will be used for or the disasters it could spurn outside of what we think is possible, is there such a thing as a stupid question?