New Zealand call for TikTok to be removed from Apple and Google app stores

An alarming report suggests a huge amount of data is shared with the Chinese Government.
An alarming report suggests a huge amount of data is shared with the Chinese Government. Photo credit: Getty Images

A Kiwi CEO has backed calls for social media platform TikTok to be removed from Google and Apple’s app stores amid concerns over users’ data.

Alex Ford, founder and CEO of Socialike, told Newshub he agreed with US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chief Brendan Carr that the app, which is majority owned by the Chinese Government, was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

That meant data from Kiwis, including biometric identifiers, was likely to be going to China with little control over what happens to it.

He also believed Government action was required to better protect Kiwis from predatory behaviour, but feared the law-making process in New Zealand worked too slowly to do so amid the fast-moving technology sector.

In an open letter on Twitter to the technology giants, the FCC’s Carr offered his analysis regarding an “alarming report” regarding the “vast troves of sensitive data” the app collects on US users.

“TikTok is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, an organisation that is beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the PRC’s surveillance demands,” Carr wrote.

“TikTok is not what it appears to be on the surface. It is not just an app for sharing funny videos or memes.

“That’s the sheep’s clothing. At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data,” he continued.

“Indeed, TikTok collects everything from search and browsing histories to keystroke patterns and biometric identifiers, including faceprints-which researchers have said might be used in unrelated facial recognition technology– and voiceprints.

“It collects location data as well as draft messages and metadata, plus it has collected the text, images, and videos that are stored on a device’s clipboard.”

However that should come as no surprise, according to Carr.

“Within its own borders, the PRC has developed some of the most invasive and omnipresent surveillance capabilities in the world to maintain authoritarian control.”

Ford told Newshub it was clear TikTok wasn’t just a platform for teenagers to dance to their favourite songs, and he had avoided using the app because of data concerns.

“From the early stages I did see it as being a bit of a shady platform,” he said.

“I think maybe [Kiwis] are a little bit naive when it comes to these platforms and it may be that we do need to do more research before jumping on them.

“We’ve got the FCC making these claims and attempting to regulate the social media space. In New Zealand we don’t really have that and there doesn’t seem to be anything protecting or educating consumers on these platforms,” Ford told Newshub.

“Humans are sheep, we follow trends. So I think there needs to be more education and levels of regulation before these things are opened up to New Zealanders.”

CONCERNS OVER TIMESCALES

Socialike has already taken a stand against social media companies which it feels isn’t necessarily operating in the best interests of its users, which included ditching Facebook as a platform it used with its customers.

That came down to the impact the company had had on Kiwis over the last few years, he said.

“You’ve got the Christchurch terrorist attack and the role they played in that but then you’ve also got the spread of hate misinformation disinformation through COVID.”

“There’s nothing regulating or stopping these platforms in New Zealand from being what they are.

“We’ve written to the New Zealand government, raising our concerns, obviously,” Ford told Newshub.

“And the response from the government was, ‘oh, well, we’re working on a bill that will see some sort of regulation on these platforms but it’s going to take another couple of years before it comes into action’.

“Well that’s too slow. These platforms work much faster than that. I think if we wanted to get government regulation, or the government involved in it today, we’re not in a place to be able to do that. And it’s putting New Zealanders in harm’s way.”

That meant Google and Apple withdrawing the app was a sensible option to stop Kiwis unwittingly sharing data with China. But he felt that was “highly unlikely” due to both companies’ reliance on China for manufacturing.

“I think we’re now at a point where we need to put a stop to tiptoeing around China and the Chinese situation. We need to stand up to them.

“And I think if Apple and Google stand up to them and remove TikTok from the app store, it’s a step in the right direction,” Ford said.

According to a CNBC report, TikTok said it was “among the most scrutinised platforms from a security standpoint, and we aim to remove any doubt about the security of US user data”.

“That’s why we hire experts in their fields, continually work to validate our security standards, and bring in reputable, independent third parties to test our defences.” it said.

Ultimately, however, it’s up to those using social media platforms to understand that the data it’s supplying may be far beyond what is expected.

Are you comfortable potentially sharing your face, voice, internet history and keystroke patterns with the Chinese Government?

Hawke’s Bay teens create tiny single-use hand soaps to fight pandemic and plastic waste

Shamballs are a single use, hand soap made by a group of Hawke’s Bay teens.
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Shamballs are a single use, hand soap made by a group of Hawke’s Bay teens.

Five Hawke’s Bay teens have come up with a business idea to not only fight the pandemic, but help reduce plastic waste when washing your hands.

Rory McKay​, Corbin Lee​, Daniel O’Connell​, Connor McAneney​ and Troy Volman​ are the brains behind Shamballs, a three-gram ball of soap that dissolves rapidly when used with water.

The Year 13 Karamu High School students developed the product as part of an assignment for their business studies classes.

“We came up with the idea because we thought there was too much plastic in the bathroom,” McKay said.

From left: Y13 Karamu High school students Rory McKay, Connor McAneney Daniel O’Connell, part of the team behind Shamballs.
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From left: Y13 Karamu High school students Rory McKay, Connor McAneney Daniel O’Connell, part of the team behind Shamballs.

They first developed the idea two years ago when they were looking at developing a type of shampoo ball to combat plastic waste, with an estimated one billion empty shampoo bottles thrown away each year.

However, they found it difficult to meet the hygiene standards required for shampoo and chose to focus on hand soaps when the pandemic hit.

“You can imagine with soap bottles it would be a lot more because you wash your hands more than you wash your hair.”

With 100 per cent plastic free packaging, it was a “sustainable solution” to ordinary hand wash found in plastic pumps while still being able to “kill germs”.

Tailoring it to the Covid-19 guidelines, meant they needed a product that would last for 20 seconds.

“With soap bars, you use it multiple times before you finish with it, but that can be unhygienic,” Lee said.

They started by looking for ingredients which reacted quickly with water and foamy. This also needed to be balanced with making sure the product was moisturising.

They quickly sold out of their products when they took them to the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market last year.
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They quickly sold out of their products when they took them to the Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market last year.

“The first one we made was a bit coarse on your hands, but now it’s more comfortable,” Lee said. “We’ve had a lot of time to test them to find the right ratios of ingredients.”

The results are pinky-purple three-gram balls that smell of lavender and are made from local ingredients, including manuka honey. “All the ingredients are environmentally friendly.”

At the local Hawke’s Bay Farmers’ Market last year, they quickly sold out of their first batch of about 50 jars, each containing about 20 balls.

Their main customers are environmentalists and women between the ages of 18 and 45, O’Connell said, adding it had also proven popular for people fishing or tramping.

“People really like the portability of the idea. It’s really versatile. It’s something they can take with them that doesn’t have to stay at home.”

McKay said the group is keen to further develop their product this year, looking at introducing new scents and tailor-made products such as for farmers and mechanics.