This is TikTok. It puts the world in motion and sets it to music. You create, you laugh and you share. For much of the younger generation, this IS the world. Owned by the Chinese technology company ByteDance, TikTok is one of the world s most popular social media apps. It has been downloaded more than 2 billion times globally and maintains a total of 100 million active users in the United States.
Given that the app has been around for just over 2 years, how has it become so popular so quickly? As I learned from AI experts, TikTok is designed to be addictive. The first time you open it, it doesn t know what you like. It’ll recommend some default pages. Those pages are decided by your locale. His name is Jack, and he is a former employee of Huawei, China s largest telecommunications company. For security reasons, we ve blurred his face. Jack is a Big Data and AI expert. When you register, it may also ask you to make some simple selections. It can guess what your age is, your gender, and also the version of your phone’s operating system, so it can vaguely confirm your identity.
According to these conditions, it may give you recommendations for what videos you may like. He told me that TikTok s system adds multiple tags to every video clicked on by a user. The more videos you click, the more TikTok knows about you. Through this data collection and their powerful algorithm, they can deliver the exact videos you like. Before you realize the tactics, you are addicted to what they deliver.
The story of TikTok is the story of data, big Data. TikTok collects massive amounts of data from its users. According to researchers, and as reported by Bloomberg, TikTok starts collecting data the minute you download the app. It tracks the websites you’re browsing and how you type, down to keystroke rhythms and patterns. The app warns users it has full access to photos, videos and contact information of friends stored in the device’s address book, unless you revoke those permissions.
The app also tracks everywhere you go using your IP address and GPS coordinates, providing the app with your precise location while working, voting, attending protests, traveling, or simply picking up milk from the grocery store. Are we okay with this? Through my conversations with data security experts and everyday users of social media apps, I came to realize that most adults know that information will be collected about them and will be used by marketing companies to target advertising effectively.
This is true of most social media platforms in America. But for Communist China, data is handled in a very different way. Can you compare Google, Facebook and Amazon’s methods of collecting data with that of TikTok? Google is, as I mentioned, compared to all the others, it actually collects the information more aggressively for the commercial purpose. But, remember its commercial purposes, it does not use that to hack you or do something like that, right? But TikTok is a different story.
TikTok is kind of a dangerous animal, because TikTok collects the data, uses the data to improve their algorithm. This is James Qiu, a former Apple executive. He explains how China collects data differently from the Americans. China, you know that there is no privacy. I mean, who cares? Right? So, the company actually collects every single thing of persons. And, because of that, because they have the capability of collecting all the information from a person and they can actually train their deep learning model to be perfect.
In this case, U.S. companies and Western companies cannot compete with them. The privacy law said if one company has 10 different apps, the information collected by each app can only be used by each app. You cannot combine them and interrelate them and then synthesize new data out of them. Okay. So, that is significantly restricted. But for a Chinese company, there is no such a rule. That’s why they can build a better recommendation algorithm, this is a very dangerous company. When it collects your data, they know who you are, they know what you like and dislike. They can actually manipulate you.
Narration: In other words, while TikTok does aggressively collect its own data, its powerful algorithm may not be built solely on data collected within the app. TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, has been proven to be a data vacuum entity, amassing a large amount of user data, not only from its three popular apps but also from its many tech partners.
Narration: According to James, the intention of the TikTok s algorithm is to encourage a compulsive use of their app. Once it becomes a compulsion, users are more likely to be manipulated. Messaging hidden in seemingly harmless videos goes well beyond making money. TikTok represents a model the CCP is using to influence the world. Retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General Robert Spalding explained to me the CCP s grand vision for Big Data and AI:
So Kaifu Lee says that China seeks to become the Saudi Arabia of data. So, think about the entire world’s data and collection of that data as being tantamount to having power over the world. This is the way that the Chinese communist party sees the global internet. Globalization is connected to this… That’s why Xi Jinping goes to Davos and says, We must work together. We must continue globalization. We must continue this global connectivity Because it enables him to take the data into China behind the great firewall and create this huge data ocean that then their artificial intelligence can learn from.
So, this is their goal, because they know that they can use that, just like TikTok is used as a platform to influence. They can use that to influence not only their own people, to basically not know the true history of China, but also to influence the rest of the world. This is the power that, quite frankly, we built. Silicon Valley built this power. We built it and made hundreds, trillions of dollars. The Chinese Communist Party saw that and said, not only do we want to have control over that economic engine, we want to have the ability to influence socially and politically as well.
Thanks for everyone’s help, support and care. His name is Han Kuo-yu, Taiwan s Nationalist Party of China s presidential candidate for 2020. While initially popular as a candidate, he ultimately lost to the incumbent, President Tsai Yingwen, largely due to Taiwan’s overwhelming rejection of the Mainland Chinese government that was backing Han.
While Han s loss was due to the Chinese Communist Party, his initial rise was their doing as well. The key milestone of Han’s political career was his victory in the Kaohsiung mayoral race. Han was largely unknown through the first four months of the election season. A day after formally announcing his campaign, however, a Facebook fan group was formed. The page promoted Han through talking points and memes, consistent sharing of fake news about his opponent and public shaming of his critics. By election day, Han had more than 66,000 members on the fan page and received a surge of fan posts just hours before being elected in a landslide victory.
Dr. Puma Shen, Assistant Professor at National Taipei University, did a study on Han’s sudden rise to popularity. First, China created many websites that published and shared a large number of articles on Han-Kuoyu and fake news on Han s opponent party: The Democratic Progressive Party. They then generated a massive amount of search requests on Han Kuo-yu. They literally overwhelm the system with their requests. By doing so, google’s algorithm worked to push Han related news that the CCP generated to the first two pages.
According to Dr. Shen s research, a significant percentage of the fans on Han’s Facebook group were not from Taiwan. They were from Mainland China. To further demonstrate China s involvement, Dr. Shen s group tested Han’s name on the internet for the final two months of the campaign. They found that Taiwan was just 16th on the list of countries searching for information on Han.
Jack told me the CCP is obviously behind the efforts and this is how they did it. A large number of search results can come from people s natural behavior, and it can also come from bots automatically publishing articles. They can come from IP addresses inside China, from IP address in Taiwan, or IP addresses from any other country. In this way, Taiwan may have less searches than other countries.
According to the Financial Times, key governmental departments in Taiwan receive tens of millions of hacking attempts each month. Then between 2015 and 2017, that number tripled. These attacks, intended to steal sensitive governmental data and personal information, were primarily perpetrated by China. Does the CCP have enough resources to do things in America that s similar to what they do in Taiwan?
That s the scary part. They have been building in the last few decades control over our corporate institutions, our wall street, our investment banks, our political systems, academia, our think tank, our law firms, our PR firms, our consulting firms. You know, what we forget is the Chinese Communist Party doesn’t need to use PLA to do all of these, they can pay Washington PR firms, they can pay Washington consultants, they can pay Washington law firms, and they do.
The Taiwan story took a drastic turn though. Prior to the presidential election, massive demonstrations broke out in Hong Kong against a Chinese extradition law. Those protests, and the CCP s brutal response to them, led the Taiwanese people to reject a future under the rule of the CCP and a president indebted to them. They chose the incumbent President Tsai-Yingwen who, though not popular at the time, is consistently tough on the CCP. It is safe to say, if it is not because of Hong Kong, Beijing would have secured a Taiwanese president of their choosing.
The game to influence a major political election is complicated and can be costly. Sometimes, it takes on the least expected form. This is Christine, an emigrant from China, and a successful real estate agent in the affluent Orange County area of California. Like many among the extensive Chinese diaspora in the U.S., Christine continues to habitually use Chinese apps.
I use a lot of Chinese apps, such as WeChat, Chinese Tiktok Douyin and etc. Because it is very convenient for me to use these apps to communicate with my friends and family in China. WeChat is the world s largest standalone multi-purpose mobile app with a billion active users worldwide, mostly Chinese. Douyin s popularity stems from its short, entertaining videos, much like sister company TikTok. Both are owned by ByteDance but operate independently of each other, with Douyin created for users in China and TikTok designed for international use. Christine says that news about America has been circulating rapidly on these Chinese apps, and they all strike one tone.
Since the Pandemic began, I found there have been a lot of negative reports about America in these apps. Many of them are false, strange reports. They don t reflect what I know about the situation here. I support Trump. But what I saw on WeChat and Douyin is all negative information about Trump. It seems there is more pro-Biden information
out there. America is the biggest threat to global stability and security. Although Douyin uses powerful algorithms to determine your interests and target the recommended content accordingly, algorithms are not the only factor in what Douyin shows to each user.
In China, the most posts DouYin users see are from the Party s mouthpiece – People s daily, simply because DouYin is required by the government to push People s Daily s content to its 500 million active users. As a result of such a powerful promotion, the People s Daily has almost 100 million followers on Douyin today. This is a recognizable and recurring strategy within China. TikTok functions in a similar way to Douyin, only, instead of recommending the CCP s official propaganda, TikTok pushes political content that comes from other app users.
Ethan, a TikTok user from the U.S., told me how it works. Once I started using TikTok, it pushed a lot of anti-Trump or pro-Biden videos to me. But I did not even say or select that I am interested in politics. But after a while, like I used the app for a while, the anti-Trump video became a little bit fewer. I started to see some pro-Trump videos as well. That might be because I did not like or follow any of those anti-Trump videos. But the anti-Trump videos were still like 80 or 60%, around that in the political videos. Recently it changed. It might be because that, I don t even watch those anti-Trump videos. So, right now it is only maybe a quarter or less than that. But there are still Anti-Trump videos pushed to me.
Tiktok has a sophisticated AI model making recommendations to its users. When a user begins to use TikTok without being classified by the system as pro-Biden or pro-Trump. TikTok displays neutral content to the users. I quote neutral since it is based on TikTok s standard. In reality, there are many more pro-Biden content being displayed to the users anyhow. Based on the data collected on the users browsing searching habit, TikTok can classify the users as a conservative user quickly. Then it starts to display a few pro-Trump content to the user while mixing it with various pro-Biden content. When TikTok figures out the user is not very interested in politics, it starts
to display fewer political content.
So the goal of TikTok is to, you know, Number one, do not get this user so upset to the degree that he just won t use TikTok anymore. But at the same time TikTok still pushes pro-Biden content to him in a degree that he can tolerate.
James: That is absolutely right. Do you think TikTok can influence people s political opinions? TikTok has the potential of influence people with the manipulated information. They are good at it. It inherits the AI model of Toutiao which is Bytedance s popular news platform. Toutiao helps the Chinese government monitor and manipulate mass opinions.
So in that sense, do you think TikTok has the potential to influence the American people’s political stance during the election. What TikTok needs to do is to fine tune the AI model using the data they collected from the western country. It is a piece of cake for TikTok. This is what I have learned so far: The danger the CCP poses to the U.S. through TikTok is two-fold. First, it uses pop culture as a trojan horse in order to influence the younger generation. Second, it uses collected American data to perfect its AI model for further manipulation in this country.
On September 28th, Judge Carl Nichols of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C revoked the Trump Administration s ban on TikTok, leaving it available for download in U.S. app stores through November 12th. The Trump administration originally demanded that TikTok be sold to an American company or face a complete ban within the U.S.. A
proposal emerged between TikTok, Oracle and Walmart, but despite an early signal of support from Trump, questions over exact ownership percentages and the data hosting arrangement suspended the deal.
I talked to a Huawei expert about this prospect of, uh, Oracle, uh, owning part of the company overseas. you know, oversees, the security operation oversees their coding and everything. And he said, as long as ByteDance is still a main stakeholder there, uh, technician Chinese technicians are still writing the code. There are managers overseeing the daily operation and they are participating in the decision making, risks cannot be eliminated at all. I mean, the Chinese, no matter how good the deal looks like on the surface, do you agree?
By allowing the Chinese communist party to have any interest whatsoever, whether it’s in understanding the technology, or it is in allowing people to actually physically touch the code or the hardware where the code runs, it’s all vulnerable. TikTok s use of a powerful Chinese algorithm, and the resulting collection of user data, has revealed another possibility: the likelihood that apps from China may be operating with secret access keys, master passwords, and secret commands, called backdoors. In spite of that risk, James told me that thousands of Chinese apps are accepted in the Apple and Google app stores every year without a proper vetting process.
So, how does Apple vet Chinese apps that are trying to enter its app store? A lot of Chinese apps actually sneaked into the U.S. app store as if it is native. Right? So that is the first problem. The second problem is when Apple app store checks the apps, it checks very basic stuff. So, basically, Apple published a set of rules, and every mobile app needs to follow those rules. Apple only checks off those kinds of things, but as for whether the app is kind of tracking the customer behavior and you know send the private data into a third party server, or use that for commercial purposes or other purposes, Apple has no way to check it. So, in that sense, every mobile app has a widely open back door that can do whatever they want to.
Silicon Valley may be the country s best line of defense against malicious apps from China. But they seem uninterested in that responsibility. How much control or how much reign does the national security establishment have on the Silicon Valley?
None, zero. In fact, a Silicon Valley despises the national security establishment. Now there’s a few people that have worked within, um, government, but what happens is many of them are entrepreneurs or people that think outside of the box. And of course, what you find when you come to Washington, D C is it abhores, you know, people that think outside of the box, they want conformity and they want you to be, be bureaucratic. So, they don’t tend to last very long and they don’t tend to make much headway because in order to actually innovate in government, you have to have patience.
You have to be wily and you have to kind of figure out where is the way that you can actually make, um, you know, progress happen. There’s not a lot of people that are willing to do that because they get frustrated by the bureaucracy. In 2017, General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping, announced a bold plan for Beijing. He predicted that China would catch up with the United States in AI by 2025 and lead the world by 2030. China may have reached that goal earlier than they had planned.
Although America still leads in cutting-edge AI technology, China has surpassed America in AI application. They accomplished this by collecting far more data. More data means better AI. I believe that, in the eyes of Xi Jinping and his colleagues, Big Data and AI are more than just another curious technology. Xi openly stated that Big Data is the most critical national resource for China. Why would he believe so? Likely because the CCP knows exactly what Big Data and AI are capable of, how they can be used to control over their own people and manipulate other countries. Best of all, the Party is confident that their political system guarantees China a reliable advantage
in data collecting and AI application over the free world.
I mean what do you think is the biggest strength America still has today over China? The constitution. I think the constitution, as an idea, as a foundation for how to build a society, a blueprint, if you will, for how to build a human society, where you have human frailty and you have to deal with it, and you have to ensure that the way you deal with that is to ensure that no human or humans can have ultimate power. I think that is the strength of America. Our total existence as a free society, where people are allowed to live as they want and reach their, to present potential is at risk from the tools that we ourselves built. And the Chinese communist party have appropriate and begun to, you know, use extensively to undermine our society.
It has been 244 years since this nation was founded. At that time, a claim was made. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I believe if these claims are true, they must
be true then, true during the civil war and true today.
If you go back to the founding of this country, it wasn’t everybody that decided, Hey, we wanted a free country. It was a few, it was a determined few that were not going to be subjugated, that they were going to stand up for their rights. And they were going to find other people that were like-minded and they were going to work together to build this new land. And those people exist today.
We just have not been fighting to get, so yes, absolutely. We can win. We just have to stand up and fight. Fighting together. Democrats and Republicans. Absolutely.