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TikTok may be censoring Hong Kong protests, Washington Post reports

Report finds potential TikTok censorship

Search for Hong Kong on popular social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and you will find thousands of results documenting the ongoing clash in the city between protesters and the Chinese-backed government over a bill that would undermine the region's autonomy from Beijing.

By contrast, the same search on popular video platform TikTok yields just a handful of videos on the unrest, sparking suspicion the Chinese-owned app may be censoring the protests, according to a report from the Washington Post.

TikTok, developed in 2016 by Chinese technology startup ByteDance, has enjoyed a meteoric rise. The viral video app was downloaded over 1 billion times globally last year, surpassing both Facebook and Instagram in the number of installs, according to analytics site Sensor Tower.

TikTok has said it follows the same content moderation guidelines as other apps in the U.S., but it has not disclosed how it regulates its content, CNET senior producer Dan Patterson told CBSN. "There's a lot of opacity as to what they are filtering and how they are filtering it," he said.

According to Patterson, TikTok must adhere to the same censorship laws governing other Chinese social media companies, like WeChat or Baidu.

TikTok reigns as most-downloaded app, passing Facebook, Instagram

It's not the first time a wildly popular app from a country other than the U.S. has sparked privacy concerns. When Russian-owned FaceApp went viral this summer, it raised concerns that people using filters to alter their faces to look older were effectively handing their photos to the company, which can be used to further train FaceApp's machine-learning software.

That raises similar concerns that TikTok parent ByteDance, the largest startup in the world with a valuation of $75 billion, can use its immense capital and vast amounts of harvested data to apply artificial intelligence at large scales, according to Patterson.

"When we think about privacy and we think about security, we have to think also about capability," Patterson said.

He added: "They are certainly doing interesting things with your face data and artificial intelligence."

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