Why TikToks security risks keep raising fears
The battle between the US and China over TikTok came into full view on Thursday when the social media platform’s CEO testified before Congressional lawmakers.
Shou Zi Chew’s hearing comes at what he called a “pivotal moment” for the hugely popular short video sharing app. TikTok is owned by parent company ByteDance, which has its offices in Beijing. The platform has 150 million US users, but has been dogged by persistent claims that it threatens national security and user privacy, or could be used to promote pro-Beijing propaganda and misinformation.
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Chew will try to persuade lawmakers not to ban the app or force its sale to new owners.
So are the data security risks real? And should users be worried that the TikTok app will be deleted from their phones?
Here’s what to know:
What are the concerns about Tiktok?
Both the FBI and officials at the Federal Communications Commission have warned that ByteDance could be sharing TikTok user data — such as browsing history, location and biometric identifiers — with China’s authoritarian government.
Officials fear that TikTok, which like many other social media platforms collects vast amounts of data on its users, will be forced to give it to Beijing under a 2017 law that allows companies to disclose information related to China’s national security. Also forces personal data to be turned on.
Concerns about TikTok escalated in December when ByteDance said it fired four employees who accessed data from reporters at BuzzFeed News and The Financial Times while trying to track down the source of leaked reports about the company.
HOW IS THE U.S. RESPONDING?
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the US – known as CFIUS and part of the Treasury Department – is conducting a review, and has reportedly threatened to impose US sanctions on the app unless its Chinese owner divests its stake. do not do. In turn, China’s foreign ministry accused the United States of spreading disinformation about the potential security risks of TikTok itself.
White House officials have stated that “there are legitimate national security concerns with respect to data integrity.”
Some US senators last year urged CFIUS to quickly conclude its investigation and “impose tougher structural sanctions” between TikTok’s US operations and ByteDance, including potentially separating the companies.
At the same time, lawmakers have introduced measures that would expand the Biden administration’s authority to impose a national ban on TikTok. The White House has already backed the Senate resolution, which has bipartisan support.
HOW HAS TIKTOK ALREADY BEEN RESTRICTED?
Authorities in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific have banned the TikTok app on most government-issued phones or devices used for official business, citing cyber security concerns. Last week Britain banned government phones while New Zealand banned MPs and other staff in parliament from having it on their phones.
The EU’s three main institutions, the Executive Commission, the Parliament and the Council, have ordered employees to remove it from their work phones. So is the Ministry of Defense of Denmark. The Canadian government said its ban included preventing civil servants from downloading the app in the future. Norway and the Netherlands this week warned against installing TikTok on government equipment.
The White House ordered US federal agencies to remove TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices. Congress, the US Armed Forces and more than half of the US states had already banned the app.
WHAT DOES TIKTOK SAY?
In a TikTok video this week, Chew appealed against the ban, saying it could take away the app’s 150 million US users.
In his testimony, he plans to outline how the company’s data protection and security efforts go “above and beyond” those of its social media and online entertainment rivals.
Project Texas, part of a $1.5 billion project that’s underway, is routing US users’ data through servers controlled by Oracle, the Silicon Valley company partnered in an effort to avoid a nationwide ban.
Older U.S. data stored on non-Oracle servers User data will be deleted this year. Under this arrangement, Beijing has no way to access the data, Chew said in prepared remarks released ahead of the hearing.
TikTok has also tried to portray ByteDance as a global company and not a Chinese company. Officials have been stating that ByteDance is owned 60% by large global investors, 20% by employees and 20% by Chinese entrepreneurs who founded the company. Tiktok is headquartered in Singapore.
ARE THE SECURITY RISKS LEGITIMATE?
It depends on who you ask.
Some tech privacy advocates say that other tech companies have data-harvesting business practices that also exploit user information, in regards to the potential abuse of privacy by the Chinese government.
“If policymakers want to protect Americans from surveillance, they should advocate for a basic privacy law that prohibits all companies from collecting so much sensitive data about us, not engaging in what amounts to xenophobic showboating, which doesn’t really do anything. protect anybody,” said Evan Greer, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Fight for the Future.
Karim Farhat, a researcher with the Internet Governance Project at Georgia Tech, said the sale of TikTok would be “completely irrelevant to any perceived ‘national security’ threats” and against “every free market principle and norm” of the State Department’s Internet Will go liberty principles.
Others say there is valid reason for concern.
People who use TikTok may think they aren’t doing anything that would be of interest to a foreign government, but that’s not always the case, said Anton Dahabura, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute. Important information about the United States is not confined to nuclear power plants or military facilities; Dahabura said this extends to other sectors such as food processing, finance industry and universities.
IS THERE PRECEDENCE FOR BANNING TECH COMPANIES?
The US has banned communications equipment sold by Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE, citing national security risks. But it’s easier to ban the sale of items than to ban free apps.
Such a move could also end up in the courts on grounds that it could violate the First Amendment, as some civil liberties groups have argued.
Another possibility, although remote, is forcing a sale. That’s what happened in 2020 when Chinese mobile video game company Beijing Kunlun agreed to sell gay dating app Grindr following an order from CFIUS.
Beijing Kunlun said it signed a “national security agreement” with CFIUS to sell Grindr to San Vicente Acquisition for $608.5 million, which included commitments not to send sensitive user data to China, cease its operations there, and suspend operations in the U.S. promised to retain its headquarters
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