US Launches Investigation Into TikTok Over Backdoor Access Fears

The US has launched a national security investigation into TikTok. Ironically, the fears include whether or not China has backdoor access to data.

The Unites States, along with its allies, are pressuring Facebook to back off encryption. A defining moment of this is when the US signed a joint letter along with the UK and Australia demanding Facebook cease its efforts to protect their users with encryption. This effort would later be joined by Germany. In fact, FBI director, Christopher Wray, went so far as to say that without backdoor access, “We’re going to lose the ability to find the bad guys.”

While keeping this in mind, it may come as quite the surprise that, suddenly, the US government is now very concerned about privacy. Less surprising is the rumour that, maybe, just maybe, China might have similar backdoor access to data on social media app TikTok. Before you can even blink, the US government is now suddenly launching a national security investigation to determine what threat this poses to the US. From CNBC:

The U.S. government has launched a national security review of TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance’s $1 billion acquisition of U.S. social media app, according to two people familiar with the matter.

While the $1 billion acquisition was completed two years ago, U.S. lawmakers have been calling in recent weeks for a national security probe into TikTok, concerned the Chinese company may be censoring politically sensitive content, and raising questions about how it stores personal data.

TikTok has been growing more popular among U.S. teenagers at a time of growing tensions between the United States and China over trade and technology transfers. About 60% of TikTok’s 26.5 million monthly active users in the United States are between the ages of 16 and 24, the company said earlier this year.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews deals by foreign acquirers for potential national security risks, has started to review the deal, the sources said. TikTok did not seek clearance from CFIUS when it acquired, they added, which gives the U.S. security panel scope to investigate it now.

Of course, TikTok was quick to respond to these new allegations. From The Guardian:

But the company has also been criticised for exporting Chinese censorship overseas. In September, the Guardian revealed that the company’s moderation guidelines, in use until May this year, explicitly instructed moderators to hide content that referred to Tiananmen Square, Falun Gong, or Taiwan’s independence. TikTok says its new guidelines are written locally. “Let us be very clear: TikTok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China,” the company said last month.

“We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period. We are not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government; TikTok does not operate in China, nor do we have any intention of doing so in the future.” Within China, ByteDance operates a sister app, Douyin, which shares many features with TikTok.

In American political circles, the phrase “It’s only OK if we do it” often gets tossed around. In this case, it’s definitely an appropriate comment to make in this situation. Why is it imperative that the US government gets access to personal information, but when another country does it, it suddenly becomes a national security issue? Is this a case of pot calling the kettle black? We’re not saying anyone here is innocent in this case. What we are saying is, either it’s OK for government to collect information or it’s not. Pick one and stick with it. You can’t have it both ways.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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