TikTok ban, Tesla’s Chinese partnerships mark new phase in brewing U.S.-China data security war
By Arsenio Toledo // May 02, 2024

The United States' push to ban the Chinese social media platform TikTok and Elon Musk's electric vehicle manufacturing giant Tesla's recent partnerships with Chinese tech firms mark a new phase in the brewing data security war between Washington and Beijing. If this conflict escalates, it could reshape trade relations between the world's two largest economies.

Following years of attempts to ban TikTok, President Joe Biden has finally signed a new law that will give Beijing-based, Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-linked parent company ByteDance nine months to sell its stake in the company, with a possible extension of three months if a sale is in progress. If it doesn't, TikTok will be banned in the United States. (Related: House of Representatives passes legislation to ban TikTok if its CCP-linked parent company doesn't sell its stake in the platform within a year.)

Lawmakers from both the Republican and Democratic Parties, as well as law enforcement and intelligence officials, have expressed serious concerns that Chinese authorities have too much influence over ByteDance and could end up forcing the company to hand over data on the approximately 170 million Americans who use TikTok.

The concerns are not unfounded, and one root cause of it is a set of Chinese national security laws that allow the CCP to compel organizations to assist with intelligence gathering. ByteDance is subject to these laws.

Lawmakers have even warned that the CCP could potentially – either through direct mandate or by exerting its influence – push ByteDance into suppressing or boosting certain content on TikTok if it is in Beijing's interest to do so.

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In the same vein, American officials have also raised concerns regarding Musk's Tesla Inc. and its recent inking of a partnership with Beijing-based tech giant Baidu Inc. The partnership puts Baidu in charge of mapping and navigation functions for the EV company's semi-autonomous driving technology. This data will only be entrusted to a select group of Chinese companies which will no doubt fall under the direct control of the CCP.

Foreign companies selling smart vehicles in China are required to use one of about 20 approved local suppliers of mapping and navigation systems, meaning that Tesla's partnership with Baidu was a major regulatory obstacle it had to cross.

Musk is incentivized to keep relations with the Chinese warm as he pushes to roll out and monetize Tesla's "Full Self Driving" autonomous driving system in China as Tesla wrestles with falling sales amid rising competition, including from major Chinese EV carmakers like BYD. Rolling out the tech in China would dramatically increase Tesla's subscription revenues and help keep Tesla cars competitive against an increasing number of competitive EVs from local manufacturers.

"Going balls to the wall on autonomy is a blindingly obvious move," Musk wrote on X earlier in April, right before he began a charm offensive in China.

China, U.S. gearing up to protect their data against adversaries

Chinese President Xi Jinping has long seen control over internet data as a core pillar of his flagship "holistic approach to national security," a strategy which Beijing claims is necessary amid the growing risk coming from sophisticated cyberattacks that leave corporations, entire industries, and even nations vulnerable to information theft.

For its part, Beijing has consistently opposed U.S. data-related restrictions. The China Cybersecurity Industry Alliance, a CCP-backed industry association, recently put out a report accusing Washington of overstretching the definition of national security in its attempt to ban TikTok. It further criticized the ban as a move that reflects the U.S.'s "double standard to maintain its cyber hegemony of controlling and manipulating international public opinion platforms."

In an attempt to sway legislators, ByteDance executives sought unsuccessfully to dispel fears of possible CCP control over the company's data with the initiative dubbed "Project Texas," a program meant to silo American user's data in the U.S., away from the purview of Beijing. It is in the process of pushing a similar program for the data of European users called "Project Clover."

In recent months, the administration of President Joe Biden has stepped up its opposition to unrestricted Chinese access to U.S. data. A recent executive order signed in February prevents large amounts of Americans' personal data from being transferred to "countries of concern."

Biden has also assented to a provision tacked onto the TikTok ban bill that targets third-party data brokers and bars them from selling Americans' personal data to "adversarial countries" like China.

"While the concerns over sensitive data flows to China have been building for some time, TikTok is the big shiny object for Congress to wade into the realm of data security measures," explained Reva Goujon, a director at the market research firm the Rhodium Group. "The TikTok bill sets an important precedent for targeting Chinese tech platforms that have successfully penetrated the U.S. market."

Caitlin Chin-Rothmann, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explained that the U.S. now appears to be moving "away from an open internet with unrestricted data flows and towards selected fragmentation based on national security concerns."

"While TikTok is currently in the hot seat in part due to its enormous popularity and the scope of its data collection, it is not the first and will not be the last Chinese company that U.S. lawmakers target," said Chin-Rothmann. "It would seem that tech decoupling – or at least reducing dependence on the other – is becoming increasingly popular among both parties."

Read the latest news involving China and the CCP at CommunistChina.news.

Watch this clip from Fox Business featuring TikTok personality Zach Sage Fox discussing why he is in favor of the app divesting itself from its Chinese owners.

This video is from the NewsClips channel on Brighteon.com.

More related stories:

Ex-TikTok employee claims he was INSTRUCTED to send American users' data to Beijing-based parent company.

Report finds China uses fake accounts and AI-generated content to manipulate public opinion (but so does the U.S. government and the CDC).

FBI warning: Chinese cyberattacks on U.S. infrastructure are increasing at unprecedented scale.

Leaked documents from a Chinese contractor offers rare insight into how the CCP operates its cyberwarfare and surveillance operations.

U.S., Canadian companies COLLABORATE with Chinese experts to shape international AI policy.

Sources include:

Bloomberg.com

APNews.com

FT.com

Brighteon.com



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