TikTok still faces calls for a ban from Congress

Somewhat greater than a 12 months after then-President Donald Trump issued an govt order effectively banning TikTok within the U.S.—which later morphed into a deal to have Oracle take over its U.S. presence—the app ended up surviving unscathed and with out a change in possession. President Joe Biden formally revoked Trump’s ban on TikTok in June.

However the U.S. Congress continues to worry over TikTok’s potential safety threats. Many lawmakers imagine that the massively common video-sharing app, which is owned by the Chinese language firm ByteDance, might someway funnel information about U.S. customers to the Chinese language authorities.

On August 9, Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Republican Senator John Thune of South Dakota despatched a letter to Shou Zi Chew, TikTok’s CEO, asking why the corporate had made changes to its app’s privateness coverage, permitting it to gather extra biometric information, together with identifiers equivalent to “faceprints and voiceprints” from its customers’ movies. Klobuchar and Thune requested TikTok to outline the phrases and clarify what it plans to do with the info.


TikTok employs biometric information as an enter to the substitute intelligence fashions it makes use of to recommend movies that customers will like. That AI-driven suggestion engine is a large a part of the explanation the app has greater than 100 million customers within the U.S. And it’s come at a worth. In March TikTok agreed to pay $92 million to settle a class-action lawsuit after quite a few plaintiffs in Illinois complained that the app had harvested biometric information from customers, together with minors, with out giving correct discover. TikTok could have modified its privateness assertion to be extra specific in regards to the information it collects in an effort to keep away from future lawsuits, says legal professional and safety specialist Peter Fu, a former researcher and analyst on the Justice Division.

Outdated subject, new concern

On Tuesday, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida issued a statement calling for the Biden administration to ban TikTok on U.S. “telecommunications networks and gadgets,” noting that the Chinese language authorities has taken an possession stake within the ByteDance subsidiary that controls Douyin, the model of TikTok provided within the Chinese language market. “The Chinese language Authorities will now maintain one of many three board seats belonging to Beijing ByteDance Expertise Co. Ltd., which controls the licenses behind ByteDance’s home platforms,” the assertion says.

Rubio added, “The Biden Administration can now not faux that TikTok isn’t beholden to the Chinese language Communist Get together.”

Rubio’s workplace has launched eight statements calling for TikTok restrictions since October 2019.

In 2020, Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri launched a invoice known as the No TikTok on Government Devices Act, which passed the Senate however was by no means voted on within the Home. Hawley reintroduced the same bill within the present Congressional session again in March. He’s known as TikTok a “Computer virus” for the Chinese language authorities.

An analogous proposal banning the app on authorities gadgets was added as an amendment to the 2021 Protection finances (Nationwide Protection Authorization Act), which the Home handed final summer time. (The navy had already begun banning TikTok on its gadgets by the top of 2019.)

“The Chinese language Communist Get together is utilizing TikTok to gather huge quantities of information from Americans and our authorities that may very well be utilized in a cyberattack towards our republic,” mentioned Consultant Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican who sponsored the modification.


Roland Cloutier, ByteDance’s safety chief, told Cyberscoop final 12 months that information from U.S. TikTok customers is saved on U.S. servers, so the Chinese language authorities has no entry to it. However that’s carried out little to calm fears of Chinese language information funneling.

It’s not simply TikTok

Speaking about banning particular apps for particular customers isn’t one thing Congress does usually. It’s extra snug passing broad insurance policies that apply to all apps and all customers. Rubio hints at this in his current assertion. “We should . . . set up a framework of requirements that should be met earlier than a high-risk, foreign-based app is allowed to function on American telecommunications networks and gadgets.”

That lack of  a “framework of requirements” could also be the true drawback, says Fu, who now serves as basic counsel for Linode Cloud Internet hosting. And it’s about privateness basically, not simply for foreign-owned apps.

“It seems that the Chinese language Communist Get together is being utilized by U.S. policymakers to deflect consideration from the true subject, which is that in 2021 the U.S. still has no unifying federal privateness legislation to assist customers and companies perceive our rights, privileges, and obligations with regards to private information,” Fu says.

After the California Shopper Privateness Act handed in 2018, two other states—Colorado and Virginia—handed and enacted privateness legal guidelines, however thus far the federal authorities has but to return near passing a information privateness legislation for the entire nation.