Two Senators are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to pursue more information about just how much TikTok data is available to company representatives in China or Chinese security services, after recent press reports contradicted assurances given by a TikTok executive to Congress during 2021 hearings that access to U.S. user data was regionalized and secure.
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), who is chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is vice chairman of the committee, are asking for a formal FTC investigation of TikTok and parent company ByteDance, which they described as “partially owned by the Chinese Communist Party.” In a joint release, the two senators said that a recent report by Buzzfeed News “[undermines] longstanding claims by TikTok’s management that the company’s operations were firewalled from demands of the Chinese Communist Party.” Additional press reports published last year by CNBC confirmed via five former TikTok employees that the Chinese parent company “has access to American user data” and that the Chinese company was so actively involved with its Los Angeles-based U.S. operations, including “decision-making and product development”, that U.S.-based employees had to be available during Chinese business hours.
In the fall of 2021, the CCP acquired a 1% stake in ByteDance’s Chinese subsidiary that provides Douyin, the Chinese social media equivalent of TikTok, as well as one of three board seats of the Chinese domestic subsidiary.
In a letter to FTC Chair Lina Khan, Warner and Rubio asked her to formally start an investigation on the basis of “apparent deception by TikTok”, and to coordinate the FTC’s work with “any national security or counter-intelligence investigation” that the U.S. Department of Justice might pursue.
Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr last week asked Google and Apple to remove TikTok from their application stores, saying that the app “harvests swaths of sensitive data that new reports show are being accessed in Beijing.”
Carr cited a Buzzfeed News report based on leaked audio from internal TikTok meetings which included statements that, despite assurances from TikTok that it has regionalized data access and a U.S.-based security team to handle issues, “[indicate] that engineers in China had access to US data between September 2021 and January 2022, at the very least.” The story went on to say that U.S.-based engineers were not able to access user data independently.
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