President Joe Biden left it open on whether he will ban the Chinese-owned short video app TikTok that has been drawing scrutiny for national security concerns.
“I’m not sure. I know I don’t have it on my phone,” Biden said on Feb. 6, in response to a reporter’s question about TikTok after returning to Washington from a weekend retreat at Camp David.
With an estimated 1.5 billion users worldwide, TikTok has become one of the most popular apps in the United States. But its connection with the Chinese firm ByteDance has raised growing concerns.
FBI director Christopher Wray in December said that the Chinese ownership could give the Chinese Communist Party ability to control the recommendation algorithm, allowing them to manipulate content and carry out influence operations. On top of that, the regime could use the app to collect data on “millions of devices,” which “gives them the ability to engage in different kinds of malicious cyber activity,” he said.
“All of these things are in the hands of a government that doesn’t share our values and that has a mission that’s very much at odds with what’s in the best interest of the United States. That should concern us.”
In a June letter (pdf) to lawmakers, TikTok admitted that China-based employees can “have access to TikTok U.S. user data subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls and authorization approval protocols overseen by our U.S.-based security team.” They further noted that certain staff from China will be able to access “a narrow, nonsensitive set of TikTok U.S. user data” to “ensure global interoperability.”
Previously leaked recordings indicate engineers in China had repeatedly accessed U.S. data as recently as last January.
For its part, TikTok has maintained that it would never provide user data to the Chinese regime, pointing to American user data being stored on servers in the United States.
By Eva Fu