Republicans target TikTok for sharing users’ data with China, likely to unleash probe

Republican lawmakers Cathy McMorris Rodgers and James Comer piled pressure on the Chinese short video app TikTok and its owner ByteDance on Tuesday by saying the company may have misled the Congress about how much data it shares with China.

“Some of the information TikTok provided during the staff briefing appears to be untrue or misleading, including that TikTok does not track US user locations,” said the Republican duo in a letter to TikTok Chief Executive Shou Zi Chew. 

Both Rodgers and Comer are expected to set the House agenda next year after Republicans won the lower chamber in the just-concluded midterm elections.  

When the Republicans formally take over the House in January, they are expected to unleash a slew of investigations ranging from Hunter Biden’s laptop story to TikTok and its data policies. 

The ByteDance-owned app was targetted much more aggressively under former president Donald Trump’s tenure and the Republicans are seemingly looking to revert to the same strategy. 

Earlier this month, the FBI also warned against data leaks through the app, with Director Christopher Wray telling a House panel that potential Chinese government access to users’ data or software is reason to be “extremely concerned”.

Wray added that ByteDance embeds specific application programming interfaces (APIs) in the app which gives Beijing access to “control data collection of millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm, which can be used for influence operations, or to control software on millions of devices, which gives the opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal devices.”

Afterwards, two US senators called TikTok a Chinese surveillance tool.

“It’s not just the content you upload to TikTok but all the data on your phone, other apps, all your personal information, even facial imagery, even where your eyes are looking on your phone,” said Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton. 

Meanwhile, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, said the app posed “an enormous threat” while adding, “All of that data that your child is inputting and receiving, is being stored somewhere in Beijing.”

The Biden administration is not in favour of inflicting a complete ban on the app like India. However, with pressure mounting from all sides and TikTok not being able to plead its case immaculately, the White House may have to rethink its strategy. 

(With inputs from agencies)

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