TikTok’s CEO received a letter from Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), alleging that TikTok made misleading statements to Congress about its data policies.
The letter calls out TikTok for allegedly lying and misleading Congress. It reads:
“We are deeply troubled by TikTok’s recurring pattern of providing misleading, inaccurate or false information to Congress and its users in the United States, including in response to us during oversight hearings and letters.”
The senators pointed out reports from Forbes and The New York Times that questioned the truth of the statements given in the last 3 Congressional hearings involving TikTok executives. The main focus of TikTok’s hearings was to determine whether US user data is safe and not being sent to the Chinese government.
The letter discussed a few of the most glaring examples that seem to contradict TikTok’s statements. A recent Forbes article reported that TikTok was storing sensitive personal information like Social Security numbers and tax IDs on Chinese servers, allowing Chinese employees to access them.
Reports show that TikTok has been storing American users’ Social Security numbers in China
In March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified before Congress that no American data was stored in China
Sent a letter to @DOJ demanding an investigation into whether Chew lied under oath.
— Senator Marco Rubio (@SenMarcoRubio) June 2, 2023
An article from the Times reported that all kinds of personal US user data including images of driver’s licenses and even illegal material like child sexual abuse material were being shared on ByteDance’s internal messaging app, Lark.
One of TikTok’s spokesmen, Alex Haurek, said that the company is reviewing the Senators’ letter but said “We remain confident in the accuracy of our testimony and responses to Congress”
Is TikTok Data Security a Real Issue?
TikTok has been in hot water and on the brink of an all-out ban in the United States because of worries about data security and privacy.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that comes with all of the strings to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that every other company in the country is forced to have.
Xi Jinping, the President of China, has made it a priority to grow government power within private companies as well as state-owned enterprises. One of the clearest and most powerful examples of this initiative is a national security law he passed in 2017.
This law requires “any organization or citizen” to “support and cooperate in national intelligence work.” This means that the CCP can force any Chinese company, private or state-owned, to collect intelligence for national security (also known as spying).
China changed its law in 2017 to require every company, when requested, to do the bidding of CCP intelligence services. With over 150 million Americans on TikTok, this is a serious national security concern. pic.twitter.com/NfFHlK8OYB
— Mark Warner (@MarkWarner) March 23, 2023
The passage of this law has heightened other nations’ fears of large-scale spying by the Chinese government through major tech companies. In turn, this has led to large-scale bans in the past, such as the ban against Huawei, as precautions from spying.
Now that TikTok is one of the most popular apps in the world and the 4th largest in the US, the CCP could potentially gather valuable intelligence at an unheard-of scale. It’s hard to imagine that the government would turn down such an incredible opportunity.
ByteDance may claim that it doesn’t transmit data to the CCP and it may not. However, the laws in China clearly state that it can force the company to do so at any time they want.
The law’s vague wording may also be used to force the company to lie about any spying it may perform on US citizens.
There isn’t yet enough evidence to tell if TikTok has sent the CCP US user data, but that doesn’t mean concerns about data privacy are unwarranted.
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