TikTok Comes Under Fire as a Result of Ties with China


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TikTok is once again being scrutinized in Washington, two years after then-President Donald Trump declared he would outlaw the short-form video platform in the United States through an executive order. Furthermore, TikTok’s connections to China through its parent firm, Bytedance, continue to be the main problem.

The Biden administration is being urged by an increasing number of US politicians to take action against TikTok due to ostensible national security and data privacy issues. The criticism is in response to a Buzzfeed News investigation from June that claimed China had routinely accessed some US customer data. Leaked audio recordings of numerous internal TikTok meetings were used in the story, including one in which a TikTok employee is reported to have said, “Everything is seen in China.”

In reaction to the report, TikTok previously stated that it has consistently defended the ability of its engineers working in countries outside the US, such as China, to request access to US user data as necessary. In testimony given last year to a Senate committee, a TikTok official stated that the company does not share information with the Chinese government and that a US-based security team determines who is permitted access to US user data coming from China.

The renewed assault on TikTok coincides with the platform’s expanding influence in the US. After Trump departed office, the Biden administration withdrew the executive order and generally walked back its attempts to ban TikTok. According to estimates from market research, more than 100 million users of TikTok are believed to be in the United States. TikTok reported in 2017 that it had over 1 billion monthly active users worldwide. Activity on the app continues to affect the news cycle, popular music, culinary trends, and more in the country. Meanwhile, in an effort to compete, other US social media juggernauts keep copying TikTok’s features.

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According to some critics, Trump’s campaign against the rapidly expanding video app has drawn criticism for being xenophobic political theater, which also criticized Trump for his strange suggestion that the United States should receive a “cut” of any deal if it forces the app to be sold to an American company. However, the most recent round of criticism from politicians from opposing parties demonstrates how the national security concerns still affect TikTok in the US, even under a different administration.

Legislators’ Opinions on TikTok

In recent months, a number of US legislators and officials have demanded fresh probes into TikTok’s data storage policies or possibly the removal of the program from US app stores.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in June, a group of Republican senators led by Tom Cotton of Arkansas demanded information about the steps the Biden administration is taking to address “the national security and privacy risks posed by TikTok.”

Separately, a group of Republican senators led by Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee sent a letter of inquiry to Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok. According to the senators, new media revelations “confirm what legislators have suspected about TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance—that they are utilizing their access to a gold mine of US consumer data to spy on Americans.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission was encouraged to launch an official investigation into TikTok and ByteDance by a bipartisan group of senators on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. We urge you to take swift action on this matter in light of TikTok’s repeated misrepresentations regarding its data security, data processing, and corporate governance procedures, according to the letter from Senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Marco Rubio of Florida.

A Federal Communications Commission official pleaded with Apple and Google in a letter to take TikTok out of their app stores. Brendan Carr, a member of the FCC, asserted that ByteDance was “beholden” to the Chinese government and “bound by law to cooperate” with its requests for surveillance. Though the FCC has no authority to regulate app shops, the letter received extensive media coverage.

TikTok’s Response

In the midst of the recent controversy, TikTok declared that it has migrated its US user data to Oracle’s cloud platform, meaning that “100% of US user traffic” is now housed by the cloud provider, perhaps allaying concerns about national security.

Recently, TikTok also promised to provide academics access to its API, or application programming interface, as well as more openness regarding activity on the platform.

Opinions expressed by Atlanta Wire contributors are their own.


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