More and more calls to ban the Chinese-owned TikTok app and other software applications considered a national security threat | Robinson+Cole Data Privacy + Security Insider
Chinese company ByteDance is facing growing concerns from governments and regulators that user data from its popular short video sharing app TikTok could be handed over to the Chinese government. The concern is based on China’s national security laws, which empower its government to compel Chinese-based companies to hand over any user data. More than 100 million Americans are said to have downloaded this popular short video sharing app on their devices.
In its defense, ByteDance says that TikTok operates independently of ByteDance and that TikTok app user data is stored on servers outside of China and that it does not share the data with the Chinese government. ByteDance also claims that other social media companies collect far more user data than TikTok, yet are not in danger of being banned.
Concerns about TikTok have been around for years. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which scrutinizes foreign investments in US companies that pose a potential national security risk, has been reviewing ByteDance’s practices since 2017 as a result of ByteDance’s acquisition of American company Musical.ly. The CFIUS investigation into the Bytedance/Musical.ly transaction remains open because of unresolved concerns about ByteDance’s use of user data, the potential data could be transferred to the Chinese government, and concerns that ByteDance may be unable to track or enforce any restrictions it may adopt. . even for that. However, CFIUS recommended that ByteDance divest from TikTok’s US operations.
Meanwhile, more than 30 states and now the Biden administration have banned government employees from using the TikTok app on government-owned devices. In Congress, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to pass a bill known as the Deterring America’s Technology Adversaries Act (DATA Act), which would prohibit anyone in the United States from accessing or downloading the TikTok app on their phones. If passed into law, it would mean that Apple and Google would no longer be able to offer the TikTok app in their app stores. ByteDance is reportedly in talks with Apple and Google about a data security plan that ByteDance has proposed to CFIUS to ensure that the plan is accepted by both Apple and Google. The plan reportedly involves Oracle storing TikTok’s US user data on its servers, as well as TikTok’s software and updates, before they are sent to app stores.
The United States is not alone in raising security concerns about the TikTok app. Canada, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of the EU have banned the TikTok app from being loaded onto government or organization-owned devices. In some cases, employees and staff disable TikTok on personal devices with access to government or organizational systems. Most also advised lawmakers and employees to remove the TikTok app from their personal devices, even if they don’t have access to government or organizational systems. Pakistan and Afghanistan have also banned TikTok, but for its content, not security concerns.
Some countries have gone even further in banning the TikTok app altogether. In 2021, India permanently banned the TikTok app and several other Chinese apps. In December 2022, Taiwan imposed a public sector ban on the TikTok app after the FBI warned that the TikTok app posed a national security risk.
While TikTok is currently the focus of lawmakers and regulators, some say security improvements on other social media platforms need to be continually reviewed. The DATA Act bill would also require Biden to order a ban on companies from handing over sensitive personal data to an entity under China’s influence, though the details of that provision are not entirely clear in the bill.