TikTok has again rejected claims that its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, will share user data from the popular video-sharing app with the Chinese government, or push propaganda and misinformation on its behalf.
China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday accused the United States itself of spreading disinformation about TikTok’s potential security risks after a report by Wall Street Journal that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US – part of the Treasury Department – threatened to ban the US from the app unless the Chinese owners divest their stake.
So are the data security risks real? And should users worry that the TikTok app will be deleted from their phones?
Here’s what to know:
WHAT ARE TIKTOK’S CONCERNS?
Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have warned that ByteDance may share TikTok user data — such as browsing history, location and biometric identifiers — with Chinese government authorities.
A law implemented in China in 2017 requires companies to provide the government with any personal data related to the country’s national security. There is no evidence that TikTok ignores such data, but fears abound because of the amount of user data it collects, like other social media companies.
Concerns around TikTok rose in December when ByteDance said it had fired four employees who accessed the data of two journalists from Buzzfeed News and The Financial Times while trying to trace the source of one leaked report about the company.
WHAT DO THE US SPEAK?
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to comment when asked Thursday to discuss the Chinese foreign ministry’s comments about TikTok, citing an investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment.
Kirby also could not confirm that the administration had sent TikTok a letter warning that the US government could ban the application if its Chinese owners do not sell its stake but added, “we have legitimate concerns with the national security in relation to the integrity of the data we need. vigilance.”
In 2020, former President Donald Trump and his administration sought to force ByteDance to sell its US assets and ban TikTok from app stores. The courts blocked the effort, and President Joe Biden rescinded Trump’s orders but ordered an in-depth study of the issue. A planned sale of TikTok’s assets in the US has also been put on hold while the Biden administration negotiates a deal with TikTok that would address some of the national security concerns.
In Congress, US Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Jerry Moran, a Democrat and Republican, wrote a letter in February to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging the Committee on Foreign Investment panel, which she chairs, to “quickly end its investigation and impose strict structural restrictions” between TikTok’s American operations and ByteDance, including the possible separation of the companies.
At the same time, lawmakers introduced measures that would expand the authority of the Biden administration to enact a national ban on TikTok. The White House has already backed a Senate proposal that has bipartisan support.
HOW IS THE TIKTOK SELECTED?
On Thursday, British authorities say they have banned TikTok on government-issued phones for security reasons, following similar measures by the executive branch of the European Union, which temporarily banned TikTok from employee phones. Denmark and Canada have also announced efforts to block it on government-issued phones.
Last month, the White House said it would give US federal agencies 30 days to wipe TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices. Congress, the US armed forces and more than half of the US states have already banned the app.
WHAT DOES TIKTOK SAY?
TikTok spokeswoman Maureen Shanahan said the company is already addressing security concerns with “transparent, US-based data protection and US user systems, with robust monitoring, vetting, and third-party verification.”
In June, TikTok said it would route all data from US users to servers controlled by Oracle, the Silicon Valley company it chose as its US technology partner in 2020 in an effort to avoid a nationwide ban. But it stores data backups on its own servers in the US and Singapore. The company said it expects to remove US user data from its own servers, but it did not provide a timeline for when that would happen.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to testify next week before the House Energy and Commerce Committee about the company’s privacy and data security practices, as well as its relationship with the Chinese government.
Meanwhile, TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is trying to position itself as an international company — and less of a Chinese company founded in Beijing in 2012 by current chief executive 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 that its ownership consists of 60% of global investors, 20% of employees and 20% of founders. Its leaders are based in cities like Singapore, New York, Beijing and other metropolitan areas.
ARE THE SECURITY RISKS LEGITIMATE?
Depends on who you ask.
Some tech privacy advocates say while potential privacy abuses by the Chinese government are worrying, other tech companies have business practices for data harvesting that also exploit user information. .
“If policymakers want to protect Americans from surveillance, they should promote a basic privacy law that prohibits all companies from collecting highly sensitive data about us in the first place, instead of engage in what amounts to xenophobic showboating that does nothing to protect anyone,” 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 TikTok’s sales would be “completely unrelated to any alleged ‘national security’ threats” and would be against “every free market principles and ethics” on the state department’s website. principles of freedom.
Some say there is legitimate cause for concern.
People who use TikTok may think they’re doing nothing of interest to a foreign government, but that’s not always the case, said Anton Dahbura, executive director of the Johns Hopkins University Information Security Institute. Important information about the United States is not limited to nuclear power plants or military facilities; it has reached other sectors, such as food processing, the financial industry and universities, said Dahbura.
IS THERE A PRECEDENT FOR BANNING TECH COMPANIES?
Last year, the US banned the sale of communications equipment made by Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE, citing national security risks. But banning the sale of goods can be easier than banning an app, which can be accessed through the web.
Such a move could also go to the courts on the grounds that it could violate the First Amendment as some civil liberties groups have argued.