The TikTok Wars – why the US and China are feuding over the app | TikTok

TikTok again rejects claims that its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, would share user data from its popular video-sharing app with the Chinese government, or spread propaganda and misinformation on its behalf.

China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday itself accused the US of spreading disinformation about TikTok’s potential security risks following a report in the Wall Street Journal that threatened the US Foreign Investment Committee – part of the Treasury Department. with a US ban on the app unless the Chinese owners divest their interest.

So are the data security risks real? And should users worry about the TikTok app being wiped off their phones?

Here’s what you need to know:

What are the concerns about TikTok?

Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have warned that ByteDance could share TikTok user data — such as browsing history, location, and biometric identifiers — with China’s authoritarian government.

A law introduced by China in 2017 requires companies to provide the government with all personal data relevant to the country’s national security. There is no evidence that TikTok has transferred such data, but fears are high due to the sheer amount of user data it, like other social media companies, collects.

Concerns around TikTok intensified in December when ByteDance said it fired four employees who had access to data on two journalists from BuzzFeed News and the Financial Times while trying to track down the source of a leaked report on the company. Last week, FBI Director Christopher Wray told the Senate Intelligence Committee that TikTok “screams” at national security concerns and that China could also manipulate the algorithm to perpetuate misinformation.

“This is a tool that ultimately falls under the control of the Chinese government, and to me it screams for national security concerns,” Wray said.

How does the US respond?

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to comment when asked on Thursday to comment on China’s State Department comments on TikTok, citing the review being conducted by the committee for foreign investment.

Kirby also could not confirm that the government has sent TikTok a letter warning that the US government may ban the application if the Chinese owners do not sell their stake, but added: “We have legitimate national security concerns regarding the integrity of data we must observe.”

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump and his administration attempted to force ByteDance to sell its US assets and ban TikTok from app stores. Courts blocked the attempt and President Joe Biden rescinded Trump’s orders but ordered an in-depth study of the matter. A planned sale of TikTok’s US assets was also put on hold as the Biden administration negotiated a deal with the app that would address some of the national security concerns.

In Congress, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Jerry Moran, a Democrat and a Republican, respectively, wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in February urging the Committee on Foreign Investment, of which she chairs “complete her investigation quickly”. and impose strict structural restrictions” between TikTok and ByteDance’s U.S. operations, including potentially separating the companies.

At the same time, lawmakers introduced measures that would expand the Biden administration’s authority to enact a national ban on TikTok. The White House has already backed a Senate proposal that has bipartisan support.

How is TikTok already restricted?

On Thursday, UK authorities said they are banning TikTok on government-issued phones for security reasons, following similar moves by the EU executive, which temporarily banned TikTok on employees’ phones. Denmark and Canada have also announced attempts to block the app on government-issued phones.

Last month, the White House said it would give US federal agencies 30 days to remove TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices. Congress, the US military and more than half of the US states had already banned the app on official devices.

What does TikTok say?

TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan said the company was already answering security concerns through “transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems, with robust monitoring, vetting and third-party verification.”

In June, TikTok said it would route all US users’ data to servers operated by Oracle, the Silicon Valley company it chose as its US technology partner in 2020 in a bid to avoid a nationwide ban. But it keeps backups of the data on its own servers in the US and Singapore. The company said it expects to remove US user data from its own servers, but has not given a timeline on when that would happen.

TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will testify before the House energy and trade committee next week about the company’s privacy and data security practices, as well as its relationship with the Chinese government. Leading up to the hearing, Chew has quietly met with several lawmakers — some of whom remain unimpressed with their conversation with the 40-year-old executive.

After meeting with Chew in February, Senator Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat who previously called on Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores, said he remained “fundamentally concerned that TikTok, as a Chinese-owned company, is subject to to dictates of the Chinese Communist Party”.

Meanwhile, TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has been trying to position itself as more of an international company — and less of a Chinese company founded in Beijing in 2012 by its current CEO, Liang Rubo, and others.

Theo Bertram, TikTok’s Vice President of Policy in Europe, said in a tweet Thursday that ByteDance “is not a Chinese company.” Bertram said the ownership is made up of 60% global investors, 20% employees and 20% founders. The leaders are based in cities such as Singapore, New York, Beijing and other metropolitan areas.

Are the security risks legitimate?

It depends who you ask.

Some tech privacy advocates say that while the potential abuse of privacy by the Chinese government is concerning, other tech companies have data-gathering business practices that also exploit user information.

“If policymakers want to protect Americans from surveillance, they need to advocate for a fundamental privacy law that prohibits all companies from collecting so much sensitive data about us, instead of engaging in what amounts to xenophobic showboating that does exactly nothing to protect us. . everyone,” said Evan Greer, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Fight for the Future.

Karim Farhat, a researcher with the Internet Governance Project at Georgia Tech, said a TikTok sale would be “completely irrelevant to the alleged ‘national security’ threats” and goes against “every free-market principle and norm” of the internet of the past. Ministry of Foreign Affairs. freedom principles.

Others say there is legitimate cause for concern.

People who use TikTok may think they’re not doing anything that might be of interest to a foreign government, but that’s not always the case, says Anton Dahbura, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute. Important information about the US is not strictly limited to nuclear power plants or military facilities; it extends to other industries, such as food processing, the financial sector and universities, Dahbura said.

Is there priority for banning technology companies?

Last year, the US banned the sale of communications equipment from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE, citing risks to national security. But banning the sale of items can be done more easily than banning an app, which can be accessed over the internet.

Such a move could also go to court on the grounds that it could violate the First Amendment, as some civil liberties groups have argued.

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