Issue 85

Don't use TikTok

Delivered on 06 July 2020 by Justin Pyvis. About a 3 min read.

By now you have probably heard that the Indian government decided to ban TikTok, WeChat and 57 other Chinese apps. Officially, the decision is due to the apps engaging in activities that threatened "national security and defence of India, which ultimately impinges upon the sovereignty and integrity of India".

Unofficially, it's a not-so-subtle political attack on China that follows months of conflict between the two nations, most notably on the disputed Himalayan border where the deadliest clash in more than 50 years occurred in recent days. China does not have an immediate response because the Indian tech sector is relatively underdeveloped, meaning "bilateral trade heavily is weighted toward Chinese exports to India. Attempts to hurt India economically could blowback on Chinese companies".

But politics aside, Chinese apps are digital cancer and you should uninstall them as soon as possible. According to a reddit sleuth who reversed engineered the app, "TikTok is a data collection service that is thinly-veiled as a social network. If there is an API to get information on you, your contacts, or your device... well, they're using it".

TikTok was also caught scanning users' clipboards every few seconds, meaning it could harvest passwords and other sensitive information. That "feature" was supposedly in place to "identify repetitive, spammy behaviour". TikTok removed it shortly after it was exposed, but if you believe the official line then I have some magic beans to sell you.

Ultimately, any app that is owned by a Chinese company (e.g. TikTok) or has developers in China (e.g. Zoom) should be avoided at all costs. Regardless of how well meaning are the owners and/or developers, the Chinese government can and will compel them to spy on their users.

Enjoy the rest of this week's issue. Cheers,

— Justin

Other bits of interest

Remote work won't last forever

It also won't disappear. I think we'll find a new equilibrium with more time working from home than pre-coronavirus but companies will find 100% remote work is unsustainable long term.

Be aware of your digital footprint

As the clock ticks toward the implementation of Beijing's new national security laws for Hong Kong, people in the territory are rushing to alter their digital footprints or remove their presence entirely from social media.

China will have backups.

COVID-19 modelling

So much fail:

…anyone can make a better short/medium-term forecast [than the IHME model] by simply using the most recent 7-day daily deaths average. If you can guess the direction, you can do even better.

Tetlock's work on forecasting has consistently shown that even simple extrapolation algorithms, such as the "baseline" in this example, frequently outperform most experts. Turns out they outperform so-called "sophisticated" epidemiological models as well.

Facebook vs advertisers

Facebook isn't as vulnerable to the advertising boycott as the media would have you believe.

Even if the companies boycotting Facebook for July abandoned the service in the US forever, their entire share of Facebook's global revenue is represented by this tiny blue square.

The Science of Risk

Excellent [quite long] article by Steven Landsburg on the importance of understanding risk and trade-offs, especially as they pertain to COVID-19. A small snippet:

…it is not helpful to pretend that science has all the answers. Medical scientists know a lot about how to save lives. They have no special expertise on how many lives are worth saving. If the doctors tell us that closing all the supermarkets will save a million lives, we should take them seriously. But that doesn’t resolve the question of whether we should close all the supermarkets.

China’s version of Softbank’s Vision Fund?

Peking University Founder Group:

Since the start of the year, Peking University Founder Group Corp., the troubled business arm of a top Chinese university, has contributed 35% of the total offshore defaults, pushing technology industry to top all sectors.

Issue 85: Don't use TikTok was compiled by Justin Pyvis and delivered on 06 July 2020.