Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin have co-written an op-ed today arguing that it’s time to ban TikTok.

Already among the most popular media companies in the United States, TikTok offers the CCP a unique ability to monitor more than 1 billion users worldwide, including nearly two-thirds of American teenagers. We must ban this potential spyware before it is too late — not encourage its use in the United States, as President Biden is doing.

TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance. This is not a state-owned enterprise, but in China, no company is truly private. Under the country’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, all citizens and businesses are required to assist in intelligence work, which includes sharing data.

That’s not all. According to Forbes, LinkedIn profiles reveal that 23 of ByteDance’s directors previously worked for CCP propaganda outlets, and at least 15 ByteDance employees work for them now. Moreover, the company’s editor in chief, who also happens to be the secretary of its internal CCP committee, stressed that the committee would “take the lead” in “all product lines and business lines” to ensure that ByteDance’s products have “correct political direction.”…

TikTok has already censored references to politically sensitive topics, including the treatment of workers in Xinjiang, China, and the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. It has temporarily blocked an American teenager who criticized the treatment of Uyghurs in China. In German videos about Chinese conduct toward Uyghurs, TikTok has modified subtitles for terms such as “reeducation camp” and “labor camp,” replacing words with asterisks…

TikTok is a major threat to U.S. national security. Yet Biden is encouraging greater engagement with the platform by directly courting TikTok influencers. Furthermore, reports suggest that he is nearing a deal that would authorize TikTok’s continued operation in the United States without any change in ownership.

That linked reference to Biden courting TikTok influencers goes to a story by Taylor Lorenz published last month.

President Biden spent more than an hour this week at the White House with eight TikTok stars with a combined following of more than 67 million who were brought to Washington in hopes that their posts will turn out votes for Democrats in the Nov. 8 midterms.

In addition to the Oval Office meeting, the TikTok creators held a session with former president Barack Obama, toured the Supreme Court and the Capitol, and met with leaders of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the principal campaign arm for House Democrats.

The Biden administration was just hoping some influencers could help them though the midterms but there have been a series of stories that suggest having millions of Americans use an app whose data is completely accessible to the Chinese government at any time is not a great idea.

This summer, Buzzfeed reported that, contrary to denials by TikTok’s US executives, engineers in China have access to data from US users.

The recordings, which were reviewed by BuzzFeed News, contain 14 statements from nine different TikTok employees indicating that engineers in China had access to US data between September 2021 and January 2022, at the very least. Despite a TikTok executive’s sworn testimony in an October 2021 Senate hearing that a “world-renowned, US-based security team” decides who gets access to this data, nine statements by eight different employees describe situations where US employees had to turn to their colleagues in China to determine how US user data was flowing. US staff did not have permission or knowledge of how to access the data on their own, according to the tapes.

“Everything is seen in China,” said a member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department in a September 2021 meeting. In another September meeting, a director referred to one Beijing-based engineer as a “Master Admin” who “has access to everything.”

Last month Forbes published a report that TikTok’s parent company planned to monitor the location of some specific US citizens without their knowledge:

A China-based team at TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, planned to use the TikTok app to monitor the personal location of some specific American citizens, according to materials reviewed by Forbes.

The team behind the monitoring project — ByteDance’s Internal Audit and Risk Control department — is led by Beijing-based executive Song Ye, who reports to ByteDance cofounder and CEO Rubo Liang.

The team primarily conducts investigations into potential misconduct by current and former ByteDance employees. But in at least two cases, the Internal Audit team also planned to collect TikTok data about the location of a U.S. citizen who had never had an employment relationship with the company, the materials show. It is unclear from the materials whether data about these Americans was actually collected; however, the plan was for a Beijing-based ByteDance team to obtain location data from U.S. users’ devices.

A TikTok spokesperson claimed this was merely to help target people with relevant ads but Forbes reported that wasn’t true.

…the material reviewed by Forbes indicates that ByteDance’s Internal Audit team was planning to use this location information to surveil individual American citizens, not to target ads or any of these other purposes. Forbes is not disclosing the nature and purpose of the planned surveillance referenced in the materials in order to protect sources.

So, you get the idea. TikTok is owned by ByteDance and ByteDance is, under Chinese law, required to hand over anything the government demands from them. This probably won’t have much impact on the average teenage user watching videos but it does put the CCP in a position to monitor American citizens almost the way China monitors Chinese citizens. By the time we find out what they can do with this data it’ll be too late to do much about it.

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