news cybersecurity task force weighs in on safety of tiktok for small businesses
Virginia

Cybersecurity task force weighs in on safety of TikTok for small businesses

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Recent actions by governments to limit or ban the use of TikTok on government devices has led to a lot of questions from small businesses about the social media platform.

The Shenandoah Valley Small Business Development Center in Harrisonburg shared the statement of the SBDC, the nationwide agency under which regional business development centers fall. The guidance is from their Cybersecurity Task Force for businesses seeking advice on TikTok.

According to the statement: “TikTok has been identified as a social media platform that may store client data on servers outside the United States. These servers may allow access by a foreign government and foreign non-government entities that could use the data to build user profiles and track both online and real-world activities, thus exposing users to potential threats.

“These practices have triggered state and federal authorities to pursue protective actions through public information campaigns and, in some cases, legislation to limit or ban the use of TikTok.”

The statement said that if a business “does not need to communicate with its target market directly on TikTok or if it does not interact with its client base via mobile devices with the TikTok app installed, the exposure will likely be minimal or non-existent.

“However, suppose a business target is clients using TikTok or devices (business or personal) with the TikTok app installed. In that case, they are risking the exposure of their intellectual property and personal and business data.”

When assessing the need to use TikTok, the task force said to consider the following:

  1. Is TikTok a platform used by a high percentage of the target market? Most TikTok users (80 percent) are between 16 and 34. Just over half of the users are Gen Z. Males represent 43 percent of the user base, but female users generate nearly 54 percent of the content. The largest demographic group of users on TikTok are females between 18 and 24 (according to TikTok). These stats must match the target market to ensure the TikTok platform is a useful marketing platform.
  2. Does the target market primarily interact with the business via mobile devices? Web analytics will provide insights into what devices are used to connect with the business. TikTok is exclusively used on mobile devices. If the target market primarily interacts via laptops or desktops, TikTok should not be a significant concern regarding marketing mediums.
  3. Does the business owner have the time to create quality video content for the platform? Turning out consistent, relevant video content to maintain the interest of TikTok’s users can be extremely time-consuming and challenging to master. Suppose the business owner does not have the time or resources to produce a high volume of quality video content for an extended period. In that case, TikTok will probably not be an effective marketing platform.

Federal law enforcement and national security officials have warned the public that TikTok poses a clear and present danger to its users, according to the statement.

For questions regarding using TikTok or other cybersecurity concerns, businesses may contact the SBDC Cybersecurity Task Force at AmericasSBDC.org/cybersecurity.

Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.

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