TikTok might be spying on you

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According to U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, more American teens have downloaded and use the app TikTok than use Facebook.

Simply put, the app allows users to create short music videos and is popular among celebrities too. It might all seem like innocent fun but TikTok is owned by a Chinese company and under Chinese law, that means the Chinese government including the Communist Party, according to Hawley, can gain full access to all of the data that TikTok collects on its users, including users in the U.S.

For its part, TikTok is trying to minimize its ties to China as it looks to expand globally. The company also claims that the Chinese government has never asked TikTok to provide access to any TikTok U.S. user data. However, with an estimated 110 million downloads from the U.S. alone, this makes TikTok a potential counterintelligence threat that U.S. government officials say can no longer be ignored.

Data items the Chinese government may have access to would be your contacts, places you visit on the web, your text messages, and places you have physically visited.

To help combat the flow of information available to the Chinese government, Sen. Hawley has introduced a bill called the National Security and Personal Data Protection Act, which would restrict companies like TikTok from releasing data from U.S. citizens to the Chinese government.

When pressed on why this was such a troubling development, Sen. Hawley said the Chinese government can use this massive amount of data as part of its Artificial Intelligence training. The bill will cover Russian-owned companies as well and any other country that would pose a security risk to the U.S.

While trying to legislate these threats is commendable, perhaps a more effective way to protect our data as consumers is to not download these apps in the first place. It might be fun to create a music video or see how we might age in 50 years, but is the risk we’re exposing ourselves to worth some meaningless fun?

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FACEBOOK MESSENGER ALERT: A Coeur d’Alene reader wanted to let us know that she was recently contacted on Facebook Messenger by someone she thought was an old friend. It seems that scammers are at it again, infiltrating our friends’ and colleagues’ Facebook accounts to entice us to click on these messages to get us to provide our personal information.

The friend wanted to let the reader know that she had some great information to share on how she benefited from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The message included a 206 number to text back with an Eric Schmidt as the contact. Although suspicious, the reader did make the contact since she believed her “old friend” had checked into this. But it was all a ploy to get identifying information from the reader.

If the message seems suspicious, contact the sender directly to verify the validity of the message. The best way to contact them is separately from Facebook Messenger in case a scammer has gained access to their account. Remember, it’s best never to click on any attachments in a text, email or other message if you aren’t sure who is sending you the information.

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AMAZON FAKE TEXT MESSAGES: Scammers are certainly showing off their sense of humor with a new Amazon text message that’s going around. For starters, did you know Amazon is into making New Year’s resolutions for 2020?

I along with several readers received the following text message this week that said:

“Amazon 2020 resolutions: 1) not to be greedy 2) care more about the customers. So you’ll get $130 freebie for a survey v6xcr.info/5r74xLUnGxy.”

When my laughter finally subsided, I hit the delete button.

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ORDER CONFIRMATION EMAIL: Watch for email in your inbox that come from well-known companies like PayPal. The email subject line says something about an order confirmation. However, the email is really a clever way to get you to open the email to check it out.

In the fine print, the ad states it is sent by a third party on behalf of the advertiser. It isn’t really being sent by PayPal or likely any other well-known company listed on the email.

The emails are considered legitimate because they contain a disclosure stating they aren’t affiliated with the merchant listed in the email. It is best to delete these emails since you will likely be asked for personal information.

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Remember: I’m on your side.

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If you’ve encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think readers should know about, please email me at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at 208-274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. I’m a full-time copywriter working with businesses on marketing strategy, a columnist and a consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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