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Understand why TikTok and China ties compromised the app in the US

Two years after then-President Donald Trump said he would ban TikTok in the United States via an executive order, the short-form video platform is again under scrutiny in Washington.

And the underlying issue remains largely the same: TikTok’s ties to China through its parent company, Bytedance.

A growing number of US lawmakers are calling on the Biden administration to take action against TikTok, citing apparent national security and data privacy concerns.

The criticism comes from a Buzzfeed News report in June that said some US user data was repeatedly accessed from China.

The report cited leaked audio recordings of dozens of internal TikTok meetings, including one in which a TikTok employee allegedly said, “Everything is seen in China.”

In response to the report, TikTok previously said that it “consistently maintain that our engineers in locations outside the US, including China, can have access to US user data as needed under these strict controls.”

A TikTok executive testified before a Senate panel last year 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.

The renewed pressure on TikTok comes as the platform’s influence continues to grow in the United States.

After Trump left office, the Biden administration revoked the executive order and largely backed off official attempts to ban TikTok.

Last year, TikTok said it surpassed 1 billion monthly active users worldwide, and more than 100 million users are in the United States, according to some market research estimates.

In-app activity continues to shape the news cycle, popular music, culinary trends and more in the country.

Meanwhile, other US social media giants continue to imitate TikTok’s features in an effort to compete.

Some critics have previously criticized Trump’s crusade against the fast-growing video app as political theater rooted in xenophobia, and called Trump’s outlandish suggestion that the United States should get a “cut” from any deal if it forced the sale of the app. for an American company.

But the latest round of pressure from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle shows how the issue of national security continues to plague TikTok in the United States, even under a new government.

Several US lawmakers and officials have called in recent months for further investigations into TikTok’s data storage practices or even for the app to be pulled from US app stores.

A coalition of GOP senators led by Tom Cotton of Arkansas sent a letter in June to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, asking for answers on 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 a letter of questions to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew.

The senators said recent media reports “confirm what lawmakers have long suspected about TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance — they are using their access to a trove of US consumer data to keep tabs on Americans.”

Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the Senate Intelligence Select Committee has urged the Federal Trade Commission to formally investigate TikTok and ByteDance.

“In light of TikTok’s repeated misrepresentations of its data security, data processing and corporate governance practices, we ask that you act promptly on this matter,” said the letter signed by Mark Warner of Virginia and Marco Rubio of Florida. .

Chinese company ByteDance owns TikTok

In a letter, a member of the Federal Communications Commission urged Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr claimed that ByteDance was “in debt” to the Chinese government and “required by law to comply” with the Chinese government’s surveillance requirements.

The letter was widely circulated despite the fact that the FCC has no role in overseeing app stores.

In a letter responding to Blackburn and others, Chew said: “We do not provide US user data when [Partido Comunista da China]nor would we if asked.”

How TikTok responded

Amid the recent uproar, 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, which mentioned the move to Oracle, Chew said the broader goal of the company’s data security efforts is to build trust and “make substantive progress toward fulfilling a final agreement with the U.S. government.” that will fully protect user data and US national security interests.”

Chew did not name any specific groups within the US government, but the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has been investigating TikTok since 2019.

The government body, however, did not provide any recent updates on its investigation. Citing anonymous sources, Reuters recently reported that CFIUS is in “extensive discussions with TikTok regarding security issues.”

CFIUS representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TikTok also recently promised to give researchers more transparency about activity on the platform, including access by a select few to its API or application programming interface.

“We know that just saying ‘trust us’ isn’t enough,” Vanessa Pappas, TikTok’s director of operations, said in a blog post announcing the planned update.

“That’s why we long ago made an important commitment to transparency, particularly when it comes to how we moderate and recommend content.”

Why National Security Concerns Don’t Go Away

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

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

“There are real national security questions being asked,” Sherman added, but there are also problems galvanizing much of the conversation around anti-China rhetoric.

Focusing too narrowly on an app owner’s national origin, or just a single company, only looks at one way to access the data, Sherman said.

As a result, it misses out on all other ways that data flows through advertisers, brokers, and more.

“It’s good to have that kind of attention” on privacy and data security issues, Sherman said.

“But if all you’re doing is writing letters about specific companies and not actually writing and testing laws and regulations to control risk, in the long run, nothing is going to change that much.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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