TikTok an open mic, open camera: MNTN CEO

MNTN CEO Mark Douglas joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss TikTok’s web tracker, the risks and threats of TikTok’s app to U.S. users, and the outlook for a TikTok-U.S. ban.

Video Transcript

RACHELLE AKUFFO: Well, those are some of the concerns there around TikTok's web trackers and the type of data they collect. We're seeing those on the rise. But what risk is there with these trackers and what other threats does TikTok pose to users? Joining me now to weigh in is ad tech firm Mountain president and CEO Mark Douglas. Good to have you on the show, Mark. In terms of what lawmakers were focused on, we did see a lot of this focus on the trackers. You say they're looking at the wrong thing or focusing on the wrong thing.

MARK DOUGLAS: Yeah, I think it's important to understand there's essentially to-- the trackers are small pieces of code that exists in websites, essentially, just to know how many people have visited the website that might have seen an ad in the TikTok app. What the lawmakers were focusing on a lot was the app itself. And they're very different concerns in that. I mean, we know from the Twitter files, that every major social media platform was cooperating with the US government. So there's absolutely no reason to believe that TikTok would not be fully cooperating with the Chinese government. So that's serious concerns.

The trackers, on the other hand, there's no ambiguity there. So the code for the TikTok tracker is visible on any web page. If you go to any browser, Chrome, Safari, there's a menu called Developer Tools. If you select from that menu, you can see exactly what TikTok is doing. And usually-- and so there's no, like, ambiguity, or there can be no concerns. You can just literally see what's happening.

The other thing about trackers, these were covered. If you remember a few years ago, there was, like, concern over cookies. So all of these browsers put trackers into what's called a secure container. And they're limited in what they can do, what they can access. So I think the focus on trackers is a bit misguided. It would actually be TikTok's best case scenario if everyone got focused on the trackers and stopped focusing on the app because there, there's no concerns, and they get very little value from them.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And certainly, we see Google and other companies doing the same thing as well. Now, you say that the real big issue is the app itself. So what is it within the app that you think poses the biggest risks?

MARK DOUGLAS: Well, a lot of concern, again, is over the data. And people say, you know, what's the data? It's just an innocuous video. But TikTok does have your location, especially if you use any of the tools, to post anything on TikTok. The moment you post, it know exactly where you are. It's an open mic. It's an open camera. And so there are legitimate scenarios I don't think for the average American, but for some people certainly politicians and others with that information, they may not want shared with the Chinese government. And so it's these scenarios I think to be concerned about, probably, again, not the average consumer in TikTok.

The concerns over the content of the app, well, that's just covered by US law, freedom of speech, and things like that. But I think you have to put yourself in the mindset. If you were given a device by any foreign government, Chinese government or any foreign government, that could record video, record audio, and know your location, would that be something you would want to give them? And that's literally the question. And that's the question that I think Congress and kind of the president of the White House, essentially, that's the question that they need to answer, and they're going to have to answer in some way.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And we did hear one of the lawmakers bring up this issue that even if you don't have TikTok, say someone shares a TikTok video with you or something like that, that TikTok would still have access to that information. So from a user perspective, what should people be aware of if they don't have the app?

MARK DOUGLAS: Well, again, I think it's like this scenario. What if you were one of those the people in that hearing, their kids probably have TikTok? And so, again, I mean, it's kind of spy novel level stuff. But it's the information being emitted by the app. You have to assume that that information is going straight to the Chinese government. And I know the president of TikTok kind of tried to downplay those concerns, but I feel like once the Twitter files came out, like, we know that all of these platforms are cooperating with governments. So there's just no doubt.

And so it's not something that's like, you know, what's the specific content being recorded. It's the app itself. And I think actually Apple and Google can play a role here. They created secure containers for the trackers. And they can be called on also as to what kind of security in the apps is what data is being recorded and things like that. And then ultimately, I mean, just even storing data on US soil doesn't prevent a copy of that data from getting outside the US. And it doesn't prevent the Chinese from accessing it on US soil. So these are complex questions, and they're going to take some time. They're almost military level concerns. So it's an interesting topic to watch.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And we certainly see this as one of the few things where we're seeing bipartisan cooperation on a topic. But I want to talk about the broader issue for social media companies. We did see some of the social media stocks getting a boost as, essentially, Shou Chew seemed to sort of dig himself into a hole by not presenting sort of yes or no answers to lawmakers. What should we be looking at in social media stocks? Because we did see some of these copycats when India banned TikTok. And we still saw some copycats pop up with the same issues, though.

MARK DOUGLAS: Well, I think that's a little bit of wishful thinking on the part of investors. Banning an app in the US is going to be very difficult. I'm not obviously a lawyer, but I think the app would have to be categorized as ammunition to even consider it. So I don't think you're going to see TikTok go away any time. I think it's possible that it's in TikTok's interest to cooperate with the US government in some way and so maybe to kind of calm down some of these concerns.

But the idea that TikTok is going to go away and Instagram and Meta are then going to kind of thrive with TikTok out of the way, I think that is far-fetched in the United States. It's just our laws are just not really set up to, like, just ban products outright, based on concerns, without those products having some connection to military use. And I don't think that's really-- it's a scenario here, but it's not really on the table, I think, in terms of the conversations.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: Certainly, there's some knowledge there for investors to keep an eye on, perhaps not to get their hopes up too soon. Mountain president and CEO Mark Douglas, thank you for joining me in this morning.