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Does TikTok Threaten National Security?

And the investigation into the Chinese-based company

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WHAT IT IS

  • TikTok is a popular social media app where users upload short-form videos. [The New York Times]

  • The app has been downloaded over 1.5 billion times. [Buisness Insider]

  • TikTok is owned by Bytedance, a tech company based in China. [Vox]


  • Feb. 2019: The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) fined TikTok $5.7 million after it discovered the app was illegally collecting personal information (name, email, location) from users under 13. [The Washington Post]

  • Nov. 2019: The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) launched a national security review of Bytedance and TikTok. [Reuters] The report has not yet been released.
  • There is ongoing concern from lawmakers and federal agencies that TikTok’s link to their Chinese parent company poses a national security risk.
  • The concern is the potential invasion from the Chinese government into U.S. citizen’s privacy, including data breaches used for malicious intent and/or content censorship. [Vox]

WHY IT MATTERS

 

CIVICS: National security is a broad term referring to the safety and security of the nation and the nation's interests. The National Security Agency (NSA) is an agency of the Federal government, focused solely on protecting the security of the United States.

 

According to the NSA, cyber threats "to U.S. national and economic security" is the largest threat to the nation today. [National Security Agency]

 

SOCIAL: Would you delete your favorite app if you knew a foreign government was collecting your information for malicious use?

IT'S A THREAT

[REDACTED]

One of the main concerns revolves around content censoring. 

 

It was revealed that TikTok moderators censored videos mentioning Tiananmen Square, pro-democracy Hong Kong protests, certain religious groups, and any content that disagrees with Chinese foreign policy. This infringes on a U.S. user’s freedom of speech. [The Guardian]

 

 

No from the military

Jan. 2020: The Pentagon released a warning to all U.S. military members to delete TikTok from all devices. [The New York Times]

 

Several branches of the U.S military have banned download and use of the app on military-issued smartphones. [The New York Times]

 

 

Government authority

According to TikTok’s privacy policy, the app “automatically collects” users’ IP address, geolocation-related data, unique device identifiers, browsing and search history, and cookies. The policy states that the data can be shared with “third-party social network providers.”

 

Both Democrat and Republican Senators believe Bytedance could easily give the Chinese government personal data about U.S. users.

 

Lawmakers believe this data share could exert more influence over the activities of Americans to a worrying degree. [BBC]

NOT A BIG DEAL

It’s in the past

In an official statement by TikTok explaining content censoring allegations, the company said  they “took a blunt approach to moderation in an attempt to keep the content on the platform light and fun.”

 

They also stated this was not an appropriate process and no longer use this approach.

[Vox]

 

 

Out of China’s hands

TikTok released another statement in their online newsroom explaining that the data they store is primarily stored in the United States, is not subject to Chinese law, and has never been provided to the government.

 

They also stated that the Chinese government has not directly demanded content be censored. 

[TikTok Newsroom]

 

 

New rules

Early 2020: TikTok established new guidelines for what type of content is allowed on the app, emphasizing they do not censor politically disagreeable topics. [The Washington Post]

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • Dec. 2019: Major security flaws were found that could have allowed hackers to target TikTok users. The app has since fixed these issues. [The New York Times]

  • Feb. 2020: Senator Chuck Schumer (D - NY) wrote a letter to TSA expressing concern over the agency’s use of the app, given the national security review. [Charles E. Schumer Press Release]

  • May 2020: CFIUS investigation into Bytedance released. Read the summary here.

  • July 2020: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. is "taking this very seriously" and considering banning the app in the United States. [U.S. News and World Report]

  • Aug. 1, 2020: Bytedance has offered to sell U.S. Operations in an effort to avoid a ban. Microsoft is interested in buying the app. [The New York Times]

  • Aug. 6, 2020: President Trump signed an executive order imposing sanctions against TikTok, a move intended to put pressure on Bytedance to sell in 90 days. [The Wall Street Journal]

  • Aug. 24, 2020: TikTok has filed a Federal lawsuit against the Trump administration saying the executive is unconstitutional. [NPR]

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • Senator Marco Rubio (R - FL) tweeted that "... any platform own by a company in #China... is a potential threat to our county." Do you agree or disagree with the Senator?

  • Here is the FCC's "Cyber Security Planning Guide."

  • Does the responsibility of data protection fall on the user, the company, or both?

  • How will the United States’ review affect Bytedance and TikTok’s growth, if at all?

  • How will this affect diplomatic relations between the United States and China, if at all?

  • What are the benefits and dangers to being internet famous? Read more about YouTube fame here.

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