- Policy makers across Africa are becoming more worried by Tiktok’s data security issues and inappropriate content on the platform.
- Civil society organizations encourage African governments to demand the same security from technology firms as their Western peers do.
- The data security issues have been dismissed by commentators who argued that such claims are supported by TikTok competitors who are worried of losing their market share.
Concern over TikTok seems to be spreading in some regions around the world. Governments in the West are starting to take action over the company’s data security issues, but so far there hasn't been much formal commentary in Africa. The mesmerizing design of the app has swept the globe, and Africa is no exception.
The user is drawn in by the never-ending scrolling, the quick-fire informational bursts, and the program that seems to anticipate your viewing preferences. Minutes can quickly transform into hours after only a few seconds. Tiktok, which is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, is already dominating other social media platforms in Africa.
According to the 2022 Reuters Institute Digital News Report, Africa is a key market for TikTok, with an increasing number of young people using it to access the most recent news. The social media platform is now providing a stage for African creators who are starting to discover a voice that has previously been silenced. They are presenting a different perspective to the world and contesting the more widely accepted narratives about the region.
However, worries about its security aspects have been voiced in many locations around the world. Recently, TikTok has come under fire, not least from US legislators who interrogated CEO Shou Zi Chew for more than four hours. The United States raised concerns that the Chinese government might have access to user data collected by the app.
The use of TikTok and other social media platforms on the phones of government employees is currently prohibited in several countries due to inadequate data security measures, which is not just a concern in the US. However, African leaders have remained silent on the issue. No country has yet taken action against TikTok.
Although data protection is a concern, local commentators have argued that TikTok shouldn't be the only topic of discussion. They argue that the UK-based Cambridge Analytica harvested user data in Kenya to help influence the results of elections in 2013 and 2017. The now-defunct organization claimed in 2018 that it was working as a marketing agency for a customer and was only using social media to support the client's success.
The Cambridge Analytica scandal generated a lot of controversy in the US and the UK; however, little attention was given to what the company did in Kenya during the 2013 election. Experts believe that in fact, the company used Kenya and Nigeria as testing grounds before widely using Facebook to influence elections in the US and UK. The now-defunct firm showed how user information could be used by third parties for either commercial gain, meddling in the political process, or aiding in state surveillance.
Tiktok has also been accused of providing inappropriate content to its users. A manager at a Nairobi-based digital company, Gift Mirie, watched the TikTok CEO's interrogation by the US Congress last year and observed that assurances regarding the security of American teens were not made elsewhere.
Many African NGOs have emphasized the need to safeguard children on social media. They encourage African governments to demand the same security from technology firms as their Western peers do. Recently, a Senegalese lobby organization called Restic urged the local regulator to help limit what children can watch on Tiktok. An employee of Resitc, Moustapha Diakhate, stated that "unfortunately, the content on TikTok is very violent, and some content is against our African traditions."
However, some have rubbished the data harvesting claims and argued that such claims are supported by TikTok competitors who are worried of losing their market share. According to James Wamathai, a digital strategist in Kenya, American hysteria and lies are to blame for the targeting of Tiktok. He claims that "US companies collect way more data" and are dissatisfied because it seems like they "cannot compete with TikTok."