Image Source: Research Leap
The short-form video platform is once again in the spotlight in Washington, DC, two years after then-President Donald Trump declared he would outlaw it in the United States through an executive order. And the fundamental problem—connections TikTok’s to China through its parent business, Bytedance—remains basically the same.
More and more US senators are urging the Biden administration to take action against TikTok, citing ostensible data privacy and national security concerns. The complaint originates from a Buzzfeed News article published in June that claimed that China had routinely accessed some US customer data. According to the reports, numerous internal TikTok meetings had audio recordings that were released. During one of these sessions, a TikTok employee is reported to have said, “Everything is viewed in China.”
According to a prior statement in reaction to the news, TikTok has consistently defended the ability of its engineers working in countries other than the US, such as China, to request access to US user data as necessary. Last year, a TikTok official testified in front of a Senate committee that the company doesn’t provide information to the Chinese government and that a US-based security team chooses who is allowed access to US user data coming from China.
The fresh assault on TikTok comes as the platform’s prominence in the United States keeps expanding. The Biden administration reversed the presidential order and generally abandoned attempts to outlaw TikTok once Trump left office. According to estimates from market research, more than 100 million users are reportedly present in the United States, according to estimates from market research. According to TikTok’s announcement last year, it had reached 1 billion monthly active users worldwide. The app’s activity continues to influence the nation’s news cycle, popular music, food trends, and other things. Other US social media juggernauts are still copying TikTok’s features in an effort to compete.
Some critics have already decried Trump’s campaign against the rapidly expanding video app as xenophobic political theater and criticized Trump’s strange proposal that the United States should receive a “cut” of any deal if it forces the app’s sale to an American company. But the most recent round of criticism from lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum demonstrates how TikTok’s national security problems persist in the United States, even under a new government.
Legislative perspectives on TikTok
Numerous US legislators and government representatives have recently demanded fresh probes into TikTok’s data storage policies or even the removal of the app from US app stores.
The Biden administration’s efforts to address “the national security and privacy dangers posed by TikTok” were questioned in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that was issued in June by a group of Republican senators led by Tom Cotton of Arkansas.
Separately, a letter of inquiry was issued to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew by a group of Republican senators, including Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee. Senators claimed that the most recent media stories “confirm what legislators long suspected about TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance—that they are utilizing their access to a gold mine of US consumer data to monitor Americans.”
A bipartisan group of senators on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence demanded that TikTok and ByteDance be the subjects of a formal FTC investigation. The letter, signed by Senators Mark Warner of Virginia and Marco Rubio of Florida, urged you to act quickly on the issue because TikTok has repeatedly lied about its data protection, data processing, and corporate governance policies.
A Federal Communications Commission member encouraged Apple and Google to take TikTok out of their app stores in a letter. ByteDance, according to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, was “mandated by law to cooperate” with the Chinese government’s surveillance demands and was “beholden” to them. Despite the FCC’s lack of authority over app shops, the letter received extensive press coverage.
In the midst of the recent controversy, TikTok declared that it had relocated its US user data to Oracle’s cloud platform, meaning that “100% of US user traffic” is now housed by the cloud provider, perhaps resolving worries about national security.
TikTok recently vowed to provide researchers with more transparency regarding activities on the network, including access to its API (application programming interface) for a limited group of researchers.
Opinions expressed by California Gazette contributors are their own.