U.S. spy chiefs now support ban on China state app TikTok but don’t want to reign in big tech that spies on Americans
By JD Heyes // Mar 13, 2023

During a congressional testimony on Tuesday, the Director of the U.S. National Security Agency, Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, expressed concern over the data collection practices of Chinese-owned video app TikTok and its potential to facilitate wide-ranging influence operations.

But he didn't say anything about the incredible and wide-ranging spy capabilities of big tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, all of who also gather Americans' personal and private information.

Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama asked Nakasone about his concerns regarding TikTok's influence on American children. Nakasone responded by expressing concerns about TikTok's data collection and potential to facilitate broad influence operations. "TikTok concerns me for a number of different reasons," he said, according to a report by Reuters.

Nakasone said his concerns include "the data that they have."

"Secondly is the algorithm and the control of who has the algorithm," Nakasone noted further, according to Reuters.

Nakasone concluded his remarks by stating that TikTok has the potential to facilitate significant influence operations. He expressed apprehension not only about the platform's capacity to sway users but also its capability to "shut down the message," citing its vast user base.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has recently expressed concerns about the potential national security threats posed by TikTok, the popular video-sharing app owned by Chinese company ByteDance. The FBI's foreign investment unit is involved in the national security review of TikTok by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which approved a preliminary agreement on safeguards with TikTok in September 2021.

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TikTok's data collection practices, which include tracking users' personal information such as email addresses, phone numbers, and WiFi networks, have raised concerns about China's access to user data and the potential for espionage. As a result, a growing number of US states and the military have banned the use of TikTok on government-issued devices. The Biden administration is also investigating TikTok's plan to house its data in the US, while the GOP is planning to investigate TikTok's links to China.

Reuters adds: "The app is used by more than 100 million Americans. The NSA, part of the Defense Department, is the agency responsible for U.S. cryptographic and communications intelligence and security."

During testimony before the House last week, Wray discussed the country's biggest concerns with TikTok and China, writ large.

"They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations if they so chose, or to control software on millions of devices, which gives it an opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal devices," Wray said.

In June, Buzzfeed News reported on leaked meeting audio that revealed how ByteDance employees based in China had repeatedly accessed non-public information, such as phone numbers and birth dates, of TikTok users in the US. In a separate report in October, Forbes claimed that ByteDance intended to employ TikTok as a means to track the whereabouts of specific American individuals, an allegation that the company refuted.

According to NPR, Wray said during the hearing that Chinese law essentially requires companies to "do whatever the government wants them to in terms of sharing information or serving as a tool of the Chinese government."

"And so that's plenty of reason by itself to be extremely concerned," he added.

When questioned about the measures being taken by the US, Wray stated that the matter would be better addressed in a classified forum. However, he did reveal that the FBI's foreign investment division is participating in the CFIUS procedure.

"Our input would be taken into account in any agreements that might be made to address the issue," he told lawmakers.

Why isn't he equally concerned about U.S. big tech companies spying on Americans? Or the government he serves?

Sources include:

NPR.org

BuzzfeedNews.com

CBSNews.com

Reuters.com



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