TikTok’s ties to China have again been criticized in Washington. That’s why

A growing number of US lawmakers are calling on the Biden administration to take action against TikTok, citing obvious national security and data privacy concerns. Criticism comes from Buzzfeed news report in June, it was reported that some US user data had been repeatedly accessed from China. The report cites leaked audio recordings of dozens of internal TikTok meetings, including one in which a TikTok employee allegedly said, “Everything is visible in China.”

In response to the report, TikTok previously stated that it has “consistently asserted that our engineers outside the US, including China, can be granted access to user data in the US as needed under these strict controls.” Last year, a TikTok executive testified before a Senate panel that he does not share information with the Chinese government and that a US security team decides who can access US user data from China.

Renewed pressure on TikTok comes as the platform’s influence continues to rise in the United States. After Trump left office, the Biden administration reversed the executive order and all but abandoned official attempts to ban TikTok. Last year, TikTok said it had surpassed 1 billion monthly active users worldwide, and some market research estimates that over 100 million users are in the United States. Activity on the app continues to shape the news cycle, popular music, food trends and more in the country. Meanwhile, other US social media giants continue to mimic TikTok’s features in an attempt to compete.

Some critics have previously slammed Trump’s crusade against the fast-growing video app as xenophobic political theater and called it strange Trump’s suggestion that the United States should get a “share” in any deal if it forces the app to be sold to a US firm. But the latest round of pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle shows how national security concerns continue to plague TikTok in the United States, even under a new administration.

Here’s what you should know about the latest TikTok and Bytedance checkout along the Beltway.

What legislators say about TikTok

In recent months, a number of US lawmakers and officials have called for new investigations into TikTok’s data storage practices, or even for the app to be removed from US app stores.

A coalition of GOP senators led by Tom Cotton of Arkansas sent letter in June to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen for answers about the actions the Biden administration is taking to combat “the national security and privacy risks posed by TikTok.” A separate group of Republican senators, led by Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, also sent letter questions to TikTok CEO Show Zi Chu. The senators said recent media reports “confirm what lawmakers have long suspected about TikTok and its parent company ByteDance—that they are using their access to a treasure trove of U.S. consumer data to surveil Americans.”
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence called on the Federal Trade Commission to formally investigate TikTok and ByteDance. “In light of TikTok’s repeated misrepresentations regarding data security, data processing and corporate governance practices, we urge you to take immediate action on this matter,” the post reads. letter signed by Mark Warner of Virginia and Marco Rubio of Florida.

In the letter, the FCC member called on Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said ByteDance is “obliged” to the Chinese government and “legally required to comply” with the Chinese government’s surveillance requirements. The letter was widely publicized despite the fact that the FCC has nothing to do with the oversight of app stores.

In a response letter to Blackburn and others, Chu said: “We have not provided US user data in [Communist Party of China]and we wouldn’t if we were asked.”

How did TikTok react?

Amid the recent outrage, TikTok announced that it has moved its US user data to Oracle’s cloud platform so that “100% of US user traffic” is now hosted by the cloud provider, potentially addressing national security concerns.

In his letter to lawmakers mentioning the move to Oracle, Chu said the broader goal of the company’s data security efforts is to build confidence and “make substantial progress towards a final agreement with the US government that will fully protect user data and US national security interests.”

Chu did not name any specific groups in the US government, but the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has been investigating TikTok since 2019. However, the government body has not provided any latest updates on its investigation. Citing anonymous sources, Reuters it was recently reported that CFIUS is having “extensive discussions with TikTok on security issues.” CFIUS representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
TikTok also recently pledged to offer researchers more transparency into platform activities, including access for a select group to its API or application programming interface.

“We know that just saying ‘trust us’ is not enough,” TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas said in a blog post announcing the planned update. “That’s why we’ve long made an important commitment to transparency, especially when it comes to how we moderate and recommend content.”

Why National Security Issues Won’t Go Away

While TikTok has long dismissed national security concerns as “unfounded,” concerns persist.

“The fact that the Chinese government, if it really wants to, can force any company within its borders to comply with data access requests, I think is really at the heart of a lot of these concerns about TikTok,” said Justin Sherman, a non-resident. fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Cyber ​​Statecraft Initiative.

“There are real national security questions being asked,” Sherman added, but there are also problems in activating much of the anti-Chinese rhetoric.

Focusing too narrowly on the app owner’s national origin or just one company points to only one way to access data, Sherman said. As a result, it loses all other ways to transfer data through advertisers, brokers, and more.

“It’s nice to have that kind of focus” on data privacy and security, Sherman said. “But if all you’re doing is writing letters about specific companies, rather than writing and testing laws and regulations to control risk, not much will change in the long run.”

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