Speaking to the US Congress, FBI Director Christopher Wray expressed “extreme” concern over China’s ability to “weaponize” data from TikTok’s US users. Cyberscope (opens in new tab) reported earlier this week.
TikTok is currently one of the most popular social media platforms in the world, allowing users to create short videos (about 15 seconds long) on any topic.
However, TikTok is built and owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company, which is a problem for US authorities, especially given the Chinese government’s control over data generated by local companies. Under Chinese law, the government can force any company to hand over any data they have on their servers.
The company tried to appease the US government moving user data to Oracle servers (opens in new tab) stored in the country last June, but a BuzzFeed News report (opens in new tab) which was published shortly after, claimed that all that data was still visible in China.
At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing, Wray said APIs that ByteDance embeds into TikTok are a national security concern. According to him, Beijing could use them to “check the data collection of millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm, which can be used for influence operations”.
In other words, China could try to be divisive by influencing how American TikTok users see certain events and issues.
Social media companies are no stranger to influencer operations. In 2014, Facebook started tweaking its algorithm (opens in new tab) to show only specific types of messages to its users. Consequently, it was accused of manipulating its users on an emotional basis.
Wray continued that Chinese companies can pose major security risks because they “do what the Chinese government wants to do in terms of sharing information or serve as a tool of the Chinese government.” […] That in itself is reason enough to be extremely concerned.”
While US lawmakers have so far lifted a ban, TikTok remains incredibly popular, displacing Facebook, Instagram and Twitter among younger users, and they are unlikely to leave the platform without being forced to find an alternative.
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