Security concerns not harming TikTok's popularity

Samoans are embracing a Chinese-made video-sharing application, despite the social networking program coming under scrutiny globally, and being labelled a security threat.

TikTok is a video-sharing social networking service owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based company founded in 2012 by Zhang Yiming to create short lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos and now has a big following in Samoa.

The application has become popular among youth in Samoa and around the world with the global web index estimating that 41 per cent of its users are between the ages of 16 and 24. 

It now has a total of 500 million active users worldwide and over 800 million downloads and was launched in 2017 for iOS and Android for markets outside of China, and was the most downloaded app in the United States of America in 2019.

In Samoa, the total number of users remain unknown, but the response from the Samoan online community has raised eyebrows, the hashtag #samoa has being viewed over 30 million times on the social media site.

A large proportion of the TikTok content made by Samoans are circulated on the app’s For You page, which suggests videos based on your location or by popularity, and tagged with the For You page hashtag #fyp. 

The short videos are made by young and old for fun. Some local creators have even amassed over 10,000 followers with over millions of views of their content on the site, which is then shared to other social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook.

Local Samoan users of the app, who did not want to be identified, told the Samoa Observer that they use the app as a form of self expression.

"I think people use the app as a way of self expression, and because the content is very diverse,” one user said.

Another one said: "I've had the app since last year but I just started using it this year just for fun and to entertain others who are having an awful day.”

A TikTok user, who has the profile name @lost_palagi, said he was alerted to the app by a friend and after a few weeks of trials signed up last month.

"For me, I'm really shy when it comes to dancing in front of people, because when people watch you dance you can't help but feel criticized, but when you post up a weird video, randomly dancing, it's exciting and it gives you the freedom to be yourself.”

This user also given that the TikTok app is technology that their parents can't see it, they do not have to be “professional” in how they presented and made their contents.

"I feel like that's why a lot of people have been switching over to TikTok because they just want to show the world what they can do."

"As a 19 year old you'd think I wouldn't be addicted to this social media stuff, but I don't use Facebook or Instagram anymore as all my data is used for TikTok."

One user they can use up a gigabyte of data a day on the app and spend $20 a week for six gigabytes of data.

However, authorities in the U.S. have expressed concern about the security risks that the app poses, with Reuters reporting that the United States Navy banned the app from government-issued mobile devices in December last year as it represented a “cybersecurity threat”.

Samoa’s Regulator Lefaoali'i Unutoa Auelua-Fonoti, in response to questions from the Samoa Observer in relation to the issue, said there were no provisions in the Telecommunications Act 2005 or the Broadcasting Act 2010 which would give her clear powers to prohibit or control what material is accessible on the internet. 

“It is an objective of the Telecommunications Act to “protect the interests of subscribers and other customers of telecommunications services and therefore it is reasonable for this issue or any content issue to fall within the scope of the Telecommunications Act implemented by the Regulator,” she said.

While TikTok is not the online app to receive such concerns on it’s misuse, Lefaoali'i said her office has been running ongoing awareness programs targeting different age groups in the community, in relation to the safety of children and young people online since 2015.

She said issues of consumer protection, network safety and content regulation have become more prevalent worldwide with the involvement of regulators, in relation to these issues having increased.

See page 15 for the full response of the Regulator. 

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