President Biden reversed a Trump-era attempt to ban Chinese-owned apps TikTok and WeChat,
instead, implement an executive order to comprehensively review whether applications controlled by foreign adversaries pose a threat to US security.
The June 9 order means the future of popular apps remains unresolved as they undergo a review by the Commerce Department. Other foreign-owned apps are expected to face similar scrutiny.
It represents a twist in the saga around ownership of TikTok, which allows users to view and share bite-sized video clips. During the Trump administration, US officials raised concerns that data collected by TikTok could be shared with China’s authoritarian government and tried to force the sale of the company to a US buyer. TikTok has said that it would never share data about US users with the Chinese government.
Here’s a look at the key developments.
What does President Biden’s executive order do?
The order launches a review of a broader universe of foreign-owned applications on potential security concerns. It’s designed to replace the Trump administration’s approach that targeted sole proprietorships, which senior officials in the Biden administration said was effectively unenforceable.
Rather than reviewing specific apps, the order requires a study of any app developed or owned by individuals or companies “subject to the jurisdiction of a foreign adversary, including the People’s Republic of China,” according to a White House fact sheet. That could lead to an even broader crackdown on foreign-owned companies than the Trump administration was seeking.
The order gives 60 days for the director of national intelligence and the secretary of homeland security to provide threat and vulnerability assessments regarding certain applications to the Commerce Department and 120 days to produce a report with recommendations. Within 180 days, the Commerce Secretary is supposed to recommend other executive and legislative actions that could be taken to address any risks.
What worries the United States?
US officials are concerned that the data collected by such apps could be shared with foreign governments, which could then use it to undermine US security interests. Some officials are concerned that the Chinese government is potentially building a vast database of information data that could be used for espionage, for example by identifying US government employees who could be susceptible to blackmail.
Officials from companies like TikTok’s parent, ByteDance Ltd., and WeChat’s parent, Tencent Holdings. Limited.
they have questioned the safety concerns alleged by some US officials. Both companies have said that they protect the privacy of their users.
What happened to the TikTok sale?
The Biden administration shelved a possible sale of TikTok’s US operations to a group of investors that included Oracle. Corp.
and Walmart INC.,
Akacceleratorfund reported in February, citing people familiar with the matter. The delay was part of plans to conduct a broader review of how the previous administration addressed potential security risks for Chinese tech companies.
Concerns about a possible US ban on TikTok last year, in part, prompted discussions for ByteDance to explore a deal. The threat of a ban, combined with executive orders from former President Donald Trump to force a sale, facilitated a bidding process won by the group led by Oracle and Walmart.
Any deal involving the video-sharing app would likely be different than the one discussed in September, people familiar with the matter said, and any sale would require Chinese regulatory approval.
What type of user data does TikTok collect?
If you choose to participate, TikTok says it can collect your phone and social media contacts, your GPS position, and your personal information, such as age and phone number, along with any user-generated content you post, such as photos and videos. . You can also store payment information. TikTok also has an idea of what motivates you. You can track the videos you like, share them, watch them to the end, and watch them again.
Other social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter also collect large amounts of information about users. But TikTok faces scrutiny because Chinese apps in particular have a reputation for getting more data than is needed to deliver their services, and they often send information to ad networks, said Jon Callas, senior fellow for technology at the American Union of Civil Liberties. “Chinese apps tend to be a lot more abusive than others, and we hate them,” he said.
In 2020, the Journal found that TikTok had bypassed a privacy shield in Google’s Android operating system to collect unique identifiers from millions of mobile devices. This data allowed the application to track users online without allowing them to opt out.
How safe is TikTok?
Like other popular apps, TikTok has had security issues. In December, researchers at security company Check Point discovered a series of errors on TikTok that could allow hackers to upload or delete videos from user accounts and gain access to personal information such as email addresses. Those bugs have now been fixed, says TikTok.
Additionally, last year, TikTok was one of dozens of iPhone apps that accessed data copied to smartphone clipboards without user consent, a practice that could give the app access to sensitive information, such as numbers. phone numbers or passwords copied. TikTok has said that accessing the data was part of an anti-spam function and that such information did not leave users’ devices, adding that it had removed that tool.
Other researchers have found that TikTok does not pose a threat to national security. In March, researchers from a cybersecurity group at the University of Toronto called Citizen Lab published a report that found no evidence of “overtly malicious behavior” in the underlying code of TikTok. The researchers found that the algorithms used by the app are no more intrusive than Facebook when it comes to data collection. However, the researchers warned that there could be other security issues that they did not find, noting that the Chinese government could use methods to force ByteDance to hand over data under national security laws.
Are America’s Concerns About TikTok New?
No. The app has been under a national security review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. Some lawmakers in 2019 called for a review of TikTok amid concerns about the possibility of Chinese intelligence services spying on it. users or carry out campaigns of foreign influence. through the platform. TikTok has denied these allegations.
Other apps have also raised security concerns in the U.S. In 2019, national security officials ordered a Chinese company to sell the gay dating app Grindr, citing the risk that Beijing would exploit the personal data it collects to blackmail people. people with security clearances. The authorities approved last year the sale of the application to a group of investors.
Why does TikTok need the information it collects?
TikTok says it collects the data to improve the app’s user experience, including by customizing content and providing location-based services. The data is also collected to inform its algorithms and to personalize which advertisements the application offers to its users. TikTok says that the platform will store your information for as long as it takes to provide the services to you.
TikTok says it stores its data about US users on servers in the US and Singapore, but its website says the information can be shared with ByteDance or other affiliates. In a blog post from April last year, TikTok’s chief information security officer, Roland Cloutier, said the company was working to “limit the number of employees who have access to user data and the scenarios where access to the data is enabled “.
What happens to your data if you leave TikTok?
After a user exits the application, the information is stored in what the company says is an aggregated and anonymous format. Users can ask TikTok to delete their data, and the company has said in its policy that it will respond consistently with applicable law by verifying their identity.
Write to Paul Ziobro at [email protected]
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