Enlarge /. A stand of TikTok (Douyin) at the first international exhibition for artificial products in Hangzhou on October 18, 2019 in Hangzhou, China.
Trade war! USA versus China
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The Trump administration is considering banning Chinese social media apps in the U.S., Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday. The ban would start with the popular short video platform TikTok.
"We take this very seriously. We will definitely watch (TikTok)," said Pompeo during a television interview with Fox News. He directly and explicitly linked the proposed ban on TikTok and other apps with the measures taken by the administration against other Chinese technology companies.
"We have been working on this problem for a long time, whether it was having Huawei technology in your infrastructure, we have gone all over the world and we are making real progress to get it out," he said. "We classified ZTE as a threat to US national security. We did all of these things. Regarding the Chinese apps on people's cell phones, I can assure you that the US will do it right. I don't want to." in front of the president, but we'll look at that. "
Pompeo concluded with the recommendation to download TikTok "only if you want your private information to be in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party".
"TikTok is managed by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and senior security, product and public policy executives here in the United States," the company said in response to Pompeo's statement. "We have no higher priority than promoting a secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, and we would not do so if requested to do so."
A national security risk?
Pompeo's interview was not the first time that US officials expressed concern about TikTok's data collection practices – and the questions weren't confined to the White House or a single party.
A week later, reports emerged that the United States Foreign Investment Committee (CFIUS) was actually investigating companies for national security reasons. CFIUS, led by the Treasury Department, brings together members from a dozen different agencies to perform national security checks when an international company acquires a US company. The scope and mandate of CFIUS was expanded significantly in 2018 when President Trump signed a "modernization" package.
TikTok in the USA was launched in 2014 as a startup short-form video app Musical.ly. A Beijing-based ByteDance division – TikTok – bought Musical.ly for nearly $ 1 billion in late 2017. In 2018, the company decided to forfeit the name and product Musical.ly and to integrate the two extremely similar apps under the name TikTok. CFIUS did not review the acquisition of Musical.ly in 2017, so the committee was authorized to initiate the investigation retrospectively.
Reuters reported in May for the first time that ByteDance has actively moved TikTok's activities from China by expanding its presence in California enormously. "The strategy is aimed not only at TikTok, which is not available in China, but at all ByteDance companies not targeting China," Reuters wrote. Reuters has added the India-based social networking app Helo to its businesses outside of China.
This step came too late for India. TikTok and nearly 60 other Chinese apps were banned in India last week after a fatal military confrontation between the Indian and Chinese borders took place in early June. Indian officials said the apps would "steal users' data in an unauthorized manner and secretly transmit it to servers located outside of India." These officials added, "The compilation of this data, its collection and profiling through elements hostile to India's national security and defense, and ultimately compromising India's sovereignty and integrity, is a very profound and immediate matter that requires immediate action. "
Regardless of whether Chinese political entities access TikTok user data or not, data protection practices in general are also a common concern.
In May, a group of 20 children's, consumer, and data protection stakeholders filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission about TikTok's handling of children's personal information. The groups claimed that TikTok violated a 2019 FTC agreement with TikTok predecessor Musical.ly for alleged violations of the Online Child Protection Act (COPPA). The company paid $ 5.7 million, at the time the largest civil penalty ever imposed by the FTC in a COPPA case, to settle claims that it knowingly provided personal information about users under the age of 13 without the consent of the Parents collected and used.
In June, researchers found that TikTok was collecting clipboard data from iOS users. All types of sensitive information, including account passwords, are often on a device's clipboard after users copy and paste them from one field to another.
The bug was first discovered in March. At this point, TikTok promised to end the training "in the next few weeks". But it has not been clear.