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TikTok has been accused of ‘aggressive’ data harvesting. Is your information at risk? | TikTok

Cybersecurity experts have warned Australian TikTok users that the Chinese government could use the app to harvest personal information, from in-app messages with friends to precise device locations.

The warnings follow a report by Australian-US cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0, which found the most popular social media app of the year collects “excessive” amounts of information from its users.

Here’s what you need to know about TikTok’s data harvesting, and how to keep your information safe.

What’s different about the way TikTok collects data?

TikTok’s data collection methods include the ability to collect user contact lists, access calendars, scan hard drives including external ones and geolocate devices on an hourly basis.

“When the app is in use, it has significantly more permissions than it really needs,” said Robert Potter, co-CEO of Internet 2.0 and one of the editors of the report.

“It grants those permissions by default. When a user doesn’t give it permission … [TikTok] persistently asks.

“If you tell Facebook you don’t want to share something, it won’t ask you again. TikTok is much more aggressive.”

The report labelled the app’s data collection practices “overly intrusive” and questioned their purpose.

“The application can and will run successfully without any of this data being gathered. This leads us to believe that the only reason this information has been gathered is for data harvesting,” it concluded.

Most of the concern in the report focuses on permissions sought on Android devices, because Apple’s iOS significantly limits what information an app can gather. It has a justification system so that if a developer wants access to something it must justify why this is required before it is granted.

“We believe the justification system iOS implements systematically limits a culture of ‘grab what you can’ in data harvesting, “ the report states.

Does TikTok have connections with the Chinese government?

TikTok is owned by the Chinese multinational internet company ByteDance, which is headquartered in Beijing. Founder Zhang Yiming sits at No. 28 on Bloomberg’s billionaires index.

ByteDance has denied a connection to the Chinese government in the past, and called the claim “misinformation” after various leaks suggested it censors material that does not align with Chinese foreign policy aims or mentions the country’s human rights record.

“They are consistent in saying their app doesn’t connect to China, isn’t accessible to Chinese authorities and wouldn’t cooperate with Chinese authorities,” Potter said.

But he said Internet 2.0’s research found “Chinese authorities can actually access device data”. By sending tracked bots to the app, Internet 2.0 “consistently saw … data geolocating back to China”.

Potter has said it wasn’t clear what data was being sent, just that the app was connecting to Chinese servers.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, which was founded by Zhang Yiming.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, which was founded by Zhang Yiming. Photograph: Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

This month TikTok Australia admitted its staff in China were able to access Australian data.

“Our security teams minimise the number of people who have access to data and limit it only to people who need that access in order to do their jobs,” Brent Thomas, the company’s Australian director of public policy, wrote in a letter. The letter was in response to questions from Senator James Paterson, the opposition’s cyber security and foreign interference spokesperson. Thomas said Australian data had never been given to the Chinese government.

Are you at risk?

Under China’s national security laws Chinese companies are, upon request from the government, required to share access to data they collect.

“You’re in a different digital ecosystem when you’re on a mainstream Chinese app,” Potter said. And “who you are” may determine the “level of risk” you are taking.

At an individual level, the average user might not be at immediate risk, Potter said. “But if you’re involved in something more sensitive or discussing topics that are sensitive … you’ve become very interesting to them very quickly.”

A dissident in the Chinese diaspora community, or a critic of the Chinese government, might be “extremely concerned about their personal cyber security” on TikTok, Paterson said.

TikTok told a 2020 Senate committee on foreign interference on social media that any request for Australian user data would need to go through a mutual legal assistance treaty process.

Other governments also use their national security laws to gain access to user data from TikTok. TikTok publishes a half-yearly transparency report for data requests from governments.

China is not on the list of countries, but the list reveals Australian governments in the second half of 2021 made 51 requests for data related to 57 user accounts, with TikTok handing over data 41% of the time. The US made 1,306 requests for 1,003 accounts, with data handed over 86% of the time.

How can I keep my data safe?

TikTok is now the most downloaded mobile entertainment app in Australia, with 7.38 million users over the age of 18.

If you decide to keep using TikTok, Potter suggests being “specific and granular about the level of permissions shared with the app”.

Set permissions manually via in-app settings and in the device’s settings. Tom Kenyon, a director of Internet 2.0, also urged users to monitor those permissions regularly. “In any update, they can change access to permissions. It’s not set and forget.”

Potter said users should continue to “ignore requests for sharing information”. He also urged young people to avoid using TikTok for “general messaging”.

“If you want to share videos and look at cats, sure, go your hardest. If you’re going to have a conversation with your friends about your sexual orientation, or human rights, I’d be very wary.”

Kenyon said young people just starting their careers should think beyond the short term.

He also urged senior public servants, public officials and members of parliament to “delete TikTok and other social media”. While the data already collected will not disappear from TikTok’s database, deleting the application will stop data collection into the future. If they are wanting to continue activity across platforms, Kenyon suggested “a separate, dedicated phone”.

Should TikTok be banned?

Kenyon said that as it is an “avenue for data to flow to China … I absolutely think [TikTok] should be banned”.

But Potter said he is “very rarely in favour of bans”.

“I am in favour of better regulation.”

Potter said Australia must be clear “that we expect social media companies operating in Australia to respect our norms of privacy and freedom of speech”.

“They need to be clear about how they operate. And if caught lying consistently, we need to have some way of holding those companies to account.

Cyber security minister Clare O’Neil
Cyber security minister Clare O’Neil says she is ‘certainly’ concerned by the data collection practices of some apps. Photograph: Darren England/AAP

The federal minister for home affairs and cyber security, Clare O’Neil, said in a statement that the Australian government “has this report and has been well aware of these issues for some years”.

“Australians need to be mindful … that they are sharing a lot of detailed information about themselves with apps that aren’t properly protecting that information.

“I hope it concerns Australians because it certainly concerns me.”

Australian influencers have vowed to stay on the app despite concerns about Chinese data harvesting.

The Internet 2.0 report will be presented on Monday to a US Senate hearing on TikTok. With 142.2 million users in North America, the US is “obviously the dominant market for this app.”

“I would expect TikTok will come under very hard questions about how the app operates,” Potter said.

What does TikTok say about the report?

TikTok has rejected the Internet 2.0 report as “baseless”.

A TikTok spokesperson said: “The TikTok app is not unique in the amount of information it collects … We collect information that users choose to provide to us and information that helps the app function, operate securely, and improve the user experience.

“The IP address is in Singapore, the network traffic does not leave the region, and it is categorically untrue to imply there is communication with China. The researcher’s conclusions reveal fundamental misunderstandings of how mobile apps work, and by their own admission, they do not have the correct testing environment to confirm their baseless claims.”

With Josh Taylor

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Top 10 Florida Cities Dominate The Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

Top 10 Florida Cities And Business Startup Landscape In The U.S.

The Voice Of EU | Florida emerges as a hub for entrepreneurial endeavors, with its vibrant business landscape and conducive environment for startups. Renowned for its low corporate tax rates and a high concentration of investors, the Sunshine State beckons aspiring entrepreneurs seeking fertile grounds to launch and grow their businesses.

In a recent report by WalletHub, Florida cities dominate the list of the top 10 best destinations for business startups, showcasing their resilience and economic vitality amidst challenging times.

From Orlando’s thriving market to Miami’s dynamic ecosystem, each city offers unique advantages and opportunities for entrepreneurial success. Let’s delve into the chronologically listed cities that exemplify Florida’s prominence in the business startup arena.

1. Orlando Leads the Way: Orlando emerges as the most attractive market in the U.S. for business startups, with a remarkable surge in small business establishments. WalletHub’s latest report highlights Orlando’s robust ecosystem, fostering the survival and growth of startups, buoyed by a high concentration of investors per capita.

2. Tampa Takes Second Place: Securing the second spot among large cities for business startups, Tampa boasts a favorable business environment attributed to its low corporate tax rates. The city’s ample investor presence further fortifies startups, providing essential resources for navigating the initial years of business operations.

3. Charlotte’s Diverse Industries: Claiming the third position, Charlotte stands out for its diverse industrial landscape and exceptionally low corporate taxes, enticing companies to reinvest capital. This conducive environment propels entrepreneurial endeavors, contributing to sustained economic growth.

4. Jacksonville’s Rising Profile: Jacksonville emerges as a promising destination for startups, bolstered by its favorable business climate. The city’s strategic positioning fosters entrepreneurial ventures, attracting aspiring business owners seeking growth opportunities.

5. Miami’s Entrepreneurial Hub: Miami solidifies its position as a thriving entrepreneurial hub, attracting businesses with its dynamic ecosystem and strategic location. The city’s vibrant startup culture and supportive infrastructure make it an appealing destination for ventures of all sizes.

6. Atlanta’s Economic Momentum: Atlanta’s ascent in the business startup landscape underscores its economic momentum and favorable business conditions. The city’s strategic advantages and conducive policies provide a fertile ground for entrepreneurial ventures to flourish.

7. Fort Worth’s Business-Friendly Environment: Fort Worth emerges as a prime destination for startups, offering a business-friendly environment characterized by low corporate taxes. The city’s supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives facilitate the growth and success of new ventures.

8. Austin’s Innovation Hub: Austin cements its status as an innovation hub, attracting startups with its vibrant entrepreneurial community and progressive policies. The city’s robust infrastructure and access to capital foster a conducive environment for business growth and innovation.

9. Durham’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Scene: Durham’s burgeoning entrepreneurship scene positions it as a promising destination for startups, fueled by its supportive ecosystem and strategic initiatives. The city’s collaborative culture and access to resources contribute to the success of new ventures.

10. St. Petersburg’s Thriving Business Community: St. Petersburg rounds off the top 10 with its thriving business community and supportive ecosystem for startups. The city’s strategic advantages and favorable business climate make it an attractive destination for entrepreneurial endeavors.

Despite unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Great Resignation, and high inflation, these top Florida cities remain resilient and well-equipped to overcome obstacles, offering promising opportunities for business owners and entrepreneurs alike.

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European Startup Ecosystems Awash With Gulf Investment – Here Are Some Of The Top Investors

European Startup Ecosystem Getting Flooded With Gulf Investments

The Voice Of EU | In recent years, European entrepreneurs seeking capital infusion have widened their horizons beyond the traditional American investors, increasingly turning their gaze towards the lucrative investment landscape of the Gulf region. With substantial capital reservoirs nestled within sovereign wealth funds and corporate venture capital entities, Gulf nations have emerged as compelling investors for European startups and scaleups.

According to comprehensive data from Dealroom, the influx of investment from Gulf countries into European startups soared to a staggering $3 billion in 2023, marking a remarkable 5x surge from the $627 million recorded in 2018.

This substantial injection of capital, accounting for approximately 5% of the total funding raised in the region, underscores the growing prominence of Gulf investors in European markets.

Particularly noteworthy is the significant support extended to growth-stage companies, with over two-thirds of Gulf investments in 2023 being directed towards funding rounds exceeding $100 million. This influx of capital provides a welcome boost to European companies grappling with the challenge of securing well-capitalized investors locally.

Delving deeper into the landscape, Sifted has identified the most active Gulf investors in European startups over the past two years.

Leading the pack is Aramco Ventures, headquartered in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. Bolstered by a substantial commitment, Aramco Ventures boasts a $1.5 billion sustainability fund, alongside an additional $4 billion allocated to its venture capital arm, positioning it as a formidable player with a total investment capacity of $7 billion by 2027. With a notable presence in 17 funding rounds, Aramco Ventures has strategically invested in ventures such as Carbon Clean Solutions and ANYbotics, aligning with its focus on businesses that offer strategic value.

Following closely is Mubadala Capital, headquartered in Abu Dhabi, UAE, with an impressive tally of 13 investments in European startups over the past two years. Backed by the sovereign wealth fund Mubadala Investment Company, Mubadala Capital’s diverse investment portfolio spans private equity, venture capital, and alternative solutions. Notable investments include Klarna, TIER, and Juni, reflecting its global investment strategy across various sectors.

Ventura Capital, based in Dubai, UAE, secured its position as a key player with nine investments in European startups. With a presence in Dubai, London, and Tokyo, Ventura Capital boasts an international network of limited partners and a sector-agnostic investment approach, contributing to its noteworthy investments in companies such as Coursera and Spotify.

Qatar Investment Authority, headquartered in Doha, Qatar, has made significant inroads into the European startup ecosystem with six notable investments. As the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, QIA’s diversified portfolio spans private and public equity, infrastructure, and real estate, with strategic investments in tech startups across healthcare, consumer, and industrial sectors.

MetaVision Dubai, a newcomer to the scene, has swiftly garnered attention with six investments in European startups. Focusing on seed to Series A startups in the metaverse and Web3 space, MetaVision raised an undisclosed fund in 2022, affirming its commitment to emerging technologies and innovative ventures.

Investcorp, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain, has solidified its presence with six investments in European startups. With a focus on mid-sized B2B businesses, Investcorp’s diverse investment strategies encompass private equity, real estate, infrastructure, and credit management, contributing to its notable investments in companies such as Terra Quantum and TruKKer.

Chimera Capital, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, rounds off the list with four strategic investments in European startups. As part of a prominent business conglomerate, Chimera Capital leverages its global reach and sector-agnostic approach to drive investments in ventures such as CMR Surgical and Neat Burger.

In conclusion, the burgeoning influx of capital from Gulf investors into European startups underscores the region’s growing appeal as a vibrant hub for innovation and entrepreneurship. With key players such as Aramco Ventures, Mubadala Capital, and Ventura Capital leading the charge, European startups are poised to benefit from the strategic investments and partnerships forged with Gulf investors, propelling them towards sustained growth and success in the global market landscape.

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China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending ‘Taikonauts’ To The Moon From 2030 Onwards

China Reveals Lunar Mission

The Voice Of EU | In a bold stride towards lunar exploration, the Chinese Space Agency has unveiled its ambitious plans for a moon landing set to unfold in the 2030s. While exact timelines remain uncertain, this endeavor signals a potential resurgence of the historic space race reminiscent of the 1960s rivalry between the United States and the USSR.

China’s recent strides in lunar exploration include the deployment of three devices on the moon’s surface, coupled with the successful launch of the Queqiao-2 satellite. This satellite serves as a crucial communication link, bolstering connectivity between Earth and forthcoming missions to the moon’s far side and south pole.

Unlike the secretive approach of the Soviet Union in the past, China’s strategy leans towards transparency, albeit with a hint of mystery surrounding the finer details. Recent revelations showcase the naming and models of lunar spacecraft, steeped in cultural significance. The Mengzhou, translating to “dream ship,” will ferry three astronauts to and from the moon, while the Lanyue, meaning “embrace the moon,” will descend to the lunar surface.

Drawing inspiration from both Russian and American precedents, China’s lunar endeavor presents a novel approach. Unlike its predecessors, China will employ separate launches for the manned module and lunar lander due to the absence of colossal space shuttles. This modular approach bears semblance to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, reflecting a contemporary adaptation of past achievements.

Upon reaching lunar orbit, astronauts, known as “taikonauts” in Chinese, will rendezvous with the lunar lander, reminiscent of the Apollo program’s maneuvers. However, distinct engineering choices mark China’s departure from traditional lunar landing methods.

The Chinese lunar lander, while reminiscent of the Apollo Lunar Module, introduces novel features such as a single set of engines and potential reusability and advance technology. Unlike past missions where lunar modules were discarded, China’s design hints at the possibility of refueling and reuse, opening avenues for sustained lunar exploration.

China Reveals Lunar Mission: Sending 'Taikonauts' To The Moon From 2030 Onwards
A re-creation of the two Chinese spacecraft that will put ‘taikonauts’ on the moon.CSM

Despite these advancements, experts have flagged potential weaknesses, particularly regarding engine protection during landing. Nevertheless, China’s lunar aspirations remain steadfast, with plans for extensive testing and site selection underway.

Beyond planting flags and collecting rocks, China envisions establishing a permanent lunar base, the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), ushering in a new era of international collaboration in space exploration.

While the Artemis agreements spearheaded by NASA have garnered global support, China’s lunar ambitions stand as a formidable contender in shaping the future of space exploration. In conclusion, China’s unveiling of its lunar ambitions not only marks a significant milestone in space exploration but also sets the stage for a new chapter in the ongoing saga of humanity’s quest for the cosmos. As nations vie for supremacy in space, collaboration and innovation emerge as the cornerstones of future lunar endeavors.

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