March 24, 2023
TikTok is facing a wave of scrutiny for data privacy concerns, with CEO Shou Zi Chew attending a Thursday congressional hearing with U.S. lawmakers after the Biden Administration alluded to considerations of banning the app entirely.
TikTok, which has around 150 million users in the U.S., has come under fire for a series of privacy scandals in recent months, including the revelation in December 2022 that employees had used users’ location data to spy on reporters.
The Biden Administration and U.S. lawmakers have also voiced more general concerns that users’ data could be accessed by the Chinese state, with China’s national security law requiring companies to hand over user data if requested.
The issue has sparked a wider conversation about U.S. digital security and the strategies that could be implemented to strengthen it. At the hearing, looking into the app’s handling of Americans’ data, Acting National Cyber Director Kemba Walden spoke on how the National Cybersecurity Strategy could be implemented to strengthen U.S. digital security.
Among the suggestions, Walden recommended forming international partnerships, investing in a workforce, incentivizing stronger cybersecurity requirements, disrupting threat actors, and implementing stronger security measures, to improve the nation’s digital network security.
Finally, she also said the federal government and major tech companies should shoulder the responsibility of protecting citizens.
“The federal government will take a data-driven approach and will measure investments made progress and the outcomes and effectiveness of these efforts,” she said. “Work is already underway putting this strategy into action.”
The U.S. has already banned TikTok on federal devices, as have the U.K., Canada and Australia.
The Biden Administration has also suggested a nationwide ban of the app if the Chinese owner, Bytedance, refused to sell its stake to an American company.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) said in a statement: "In every case the Committee reviews … CFIUS takes all necessary actions within its authority to safeguard national security and will not clear any transaction unless it determines there are no unresolved national security concerns."
The Chinese government has vocally opposed this notion, saying such a move could lead to Chinese investors pulling out of U.S. deals.
The Countries Banning TikTok
The app’s reach is significant, with global users reaching well over 1 billion. Several world governments have levied bans against TikTok in response to ongoing concerns over its potential data breaches, as well as the kinds of content being shared.
This week, the U.K. government announced its ban of the video-sharing app from “all parliamentary devices and the wider parliamentary network,” citing cybersecurity concerns. The news extends a prior ban of the app on mobile phones alone, with MPs and other parliamentary staff members no longer able to access the service on personal devices while connected to parliament wifi.
The move has been described by TikTok as “misguided” and “based on fundamental misconceptions” about the company.
The U.K. is not alone in its decision. Australia, Canada and the U.S. also banned the app from government devices this week. The European Parliament, European Commission and the EU Council have imposed bans on TikTok on staff devices, with the change taking effect on March 20. Belgium also announced a ban earlier this month, while officials in the Netherlands are being recommended to limit or erase use of the app.
Responding to the backlash, TikTok recently announced a new program, Project Clover, to improve data security and create “a secure enclave for European TikTok user data,” according to a blog post.
India banned TikTok in June 2020 over national security concerns, while Afghanistan and Taiwan imposed a total ban on the app in 2022, the former due to fear of youths “being misled” and the latter for national security concerns.
The app has also seen sporadic, temporary bans in Pakistan since October 2020 over content concerns.
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