TikTok Gets Bad News from Congress, But What is the Danger?

0
372

It’s bad news, again, for TikTok, the Chinese owned company that implores teens to dance and do stupid challenges. 

Senators Mark Warner and Tom Cotton, the top Democrat and Republican respectively on the Senate intelligence committee, sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday urging the agency to investigate ByteDance’s TikTok over reports that employees in China accessed data about U.S. users of the service.

“In light of repeated misrepresentations by TikTok concerning its data security, data processing, and corporate governance practices, we urge you to act promptly on this matter,” Senators Warner and Cotton wrote in the letter.

The senators pointed to several recent media reports that have raised “troubling” questions about TikTok’s handling of user data. They also noted that while TikTok has claimed that it stores all U.S. user data domestically, there is reason to believe that some data is still being routed through servers in China.

Given these concerns, the senators urged the FTC to investigate whether TikTok has violated any of its commitments under the consent decree it reached with the agency in February 2019. They also asked the FTC to determine whether any changes need to be made to the consent decree in light of recent developments.

“As recently as March of this year, TikTok officials reiterated to our committee representations they have previously made that all corporate governance decisions are wholly firewalled from … ByteDance,” the lawmakers write. “Yet according to a recent report from Buzzfeed News, TikTok’s engineering teams ultimately report to ByteDance leadership.”

This is concerning because it indicates that TikTok is not being truthful about who is actually in charge. If TikTok is lying about who is running the show, what else are they lying about? We need to get to the bottom of this and find out what really is going on behind the scenes.

China is a country that is very different from the Western world in many ways, including the way that its businesses are structured. Unlike in the West, where businesses are typically owned by private individuals or shareholders, every major company in China has governement officials monitoring and controlling certain aspects of the company.

 In a socialist market economy, the state sector directs the economy and there is substantial state ownership of major industries, but prices and enterprise management are guided by market forces rather than by central planning.

Government officials in China and government ideologies are directly infused into business operations. Private sector employees are “educated” on government policies and ideologies, with the expectation that this “enlightenment” will help inform their business decisions. This government-business symbiosis is further cemented by the provision of massive government subsidies to Chinese firms. The result is an economy that is heavily influenced by the state but which also relies on market mechanisms to allocate resources and set prices

One huge example: Jack Ma is no longer the richest man in China, and his company Alibaba is facing regulatory hurdles that may Clip its wings. This is the result of a year-long crackdown on the tech sector by the Chinese Communist Party, which made an example out of Ma.

The message was clear: Chief executives will either act in accordance with party wishes or see their lives upended and their companies dismantled.

This means that the government has complete control and authority over everything that happens within the country’s businesses. 

TikTok, the short-form video app owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance, has been under fire before. But the latest criticism of the app, which has come from both the US and Europe, is on a whole other level.

At issue is TikTok’s handling of user data—including personal information, browsing habits, and location data—which critics say could be used by the Chinese government to spy on or manipulate TikTok’s Western users.

 TikTok collects a variety of data from users, including their location, contacts, and browsing history. This data could be valuable to foreign governments, which is why the Army and Navy have banned TikTok from soldiers’ work phones. 

Truth be told, the future of the internet is at stake. It’s over what users watch and create. It’s over the opaque algorithm that governs what gets seen and what doesn’t. This algorithm is usally controlled by a handful of tech giants, but in the hands of big government it can be used to further their own agendas, whether that means selling more ads or manipulating public opinion. China could very well use TikTok to influence an election by pushing fake news to get the person they want elected.

Already, there is proof that China has been allowing this:  In recent months, TikTok has become a platform for Russian propaganda. Media Matters has tracked an coordinated campaign involving 186 Russian influencers who normally post videos about beauty tips, pranks, and other lighthearted content.

However, these same influencers have been posting videos that support the Russian narrative on the war in Ukraine. The videos are often highly emotional and personal, making them more likely to resonate with viewers.

In addition, they tend to downplay the role of the Russian military in the conflict, instead painting it as a civil war between Ukrainian nationalists and ethnic Russians.

This seems to be purposeful and Chinese based TikTok did nothing to prevent it.

Do you think TikTok should be removed from app stores? What implications do you think this would have for national security?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

What's your opinion?