TikTok has once again denied 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 accused the United States itself of publishing disinformation about TikTok’s potential security risks, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal that the US Committee on Foreign Investments – part of the Treasury Department – threatened a US ban on the app unless its Chinese owners divested their stake.
So, are the data security risks real? And should users worry about the TikTok app being deleted from their phones?
Here’s what you should know:
WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS ABOUT TIKTOK?
Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have warned that ByteDance could share TikTok user data — like 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 shared such data, but due to the massive amount of user data that TikTok collects like other social media companies, there are many fears.
Concerns about TikTok were heightened in December when ByteDance said it fired four employees who accessed data from two journalists from Buzzfeed News and The Financial Times while trying to trace the source of a leaked report about the company.
HOW IS THE US REACTING?
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby declined to comment when asked Thursday to address the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s comments on TikTok, citing the review conducted by the Foreign Investment Committee.
Kirby also couldn’t confirm that the administration sent TikTok a warning letter that the US government could ban the application if its Chinese owners don’t sell their stake, but added: “We have legitimate national security concerns about data integrity, we have to do 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 effort, and President Joe Biden overturned Trump’s orders but ordered an in-depth investigation into the issue. A proposed sale of TikTok’s US assets was also put on hold as the Biden administration brokered a deal with TikTok that would address some of the national security concerns.
In Congress, US Senator Richard Blumenthal and Jerry Moran, a Democrat and a Republican, wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen in February urging the Foreign Investment Committee she chairs to “quickly complete its investigation and enforce strict structural regulations.” to enact restrictions” between the American operations of TikTok and ByteDance, including a possible separation of the companies.
At the same time, lawmakers introduced measures that would expand the Biden administration’s powers to enact a national ban on TikTok. The White House has already endorsed a Senate proposal that has bipartisan support.
HOW HAS TIKTOK ALREADY BEEN RESTRICTED?
On Thursday, British authorities said they are banning TikTok on government-issued phones for security reasons, after similar moves by the European Union executive that temporarily banned TikTok from employees’ 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 remove TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices. Congress, the US armed forces and more than half of US states had already banned the app.
WHAT DOES TIKTOK SAY?
TikTok spokeswoman Maureen Shanahan said the company is already responding to security concerns by “transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems with robust third-party monitoring, review and verification.”
In June, TikTok announced it would forward all US user data to servers controlled by Oracle, the Silicon Valley company it chose as its US tech partner in 2020 to avoid a nationwide ban. But it stores backups of the data on its own servers in the US and Singapore. The company said it expects to delete US user data from its own servers, but didn’t give a timeline as to when that would happen.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week about the company’s privacy and data security practices, as well as its relationship with the Chinese government.
TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, meanwhile, is trying to position itself more as an international company – and less as a Chinese company founded in Beijing in 2012 by its current CEO Liang Rubo and others.
Theo Bertram, TikTok’s vice president for politics in Europe, said in a tweet on Thursday that ByteDance “is not a Chinese company”. Bertram said his ownership is 60% global investors, 20% employees and 20% founders. Their guides are based in cities like Singapore, New York, Beijing and other metropolitan areas.
ARE THE SECURITY RISKS LEGAL?
It depends who you ask.
Some tech privacy advocates say while the potential abuse of privacy by the Chinese government is worrying, other tech companies have data-gathering business practices that also exploit user information.
“If policymakers want to protect Americans from surveillance, they should advocate for a basic privacy law that bans all companies from collecting that much sensitive data about us in the first place, rather than engaging in xenophobic showboating that does exactly nothing to protect nobody,” said Evan Greer, director of non-profit advocacy group Fight for the Future.
Karim Farhat, a researcher with the Internet Governance Project at Georgia Tech, said a TikTok sale would be “entirely irrelevant to any of the alleged ‘national security’ threats” and violate “every free market principle and norm” of the internet State Department Freedom Principles.
Others say there is legitimate concern.
People who use TikTok might think they’re not doing anything that would be of interest to a foreign government, but that’s not always the case, said Anton Dahbura, executive director of Johns Hopkins University’s Information Security Institute. Important information about the United States is not strictly limited to nuclear power plants or military installations; it extends to other sectors such as food processing, the financial industry and universities, Dahbura said.
DOES THE BAN OF TECH COMPANIES PRIORITY?
Last year, the US banned the sale of communications equipment from Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE, citing national security risks. However, banning the sale of items might be easier than banning an app accessed through the internet.
Such a move could also go to court because it could violate the First Amendment, some civil rights groups have argued.
Source : news.yahoo.com