TikTok’s Security Protocols Won’t Prevent China From Spying On American Users, Analysts Warn

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James Lynch Contributor
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TikTok’s new data security protocols are not enough to prevent China from obtaining sensitive U.S. user data, according to tech analysts.

TikTok is facing a national security review from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) within the Treasury Department. ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, is a China-based tech firm with ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

TikTok has agreed to create a subsidiary, TikTok U.S. Data Security Inc., to independently manage U.S. user data as part of its negotiations with CFIUS, according to The Wall Street Journal. Only vetted employees of the subsidiary would have access to U.S. user data, which would be stored on third party servers run by Oracle Corp, Reuters reported.

The platform’s recommendation algorithm would also be examined by Oracle as part of its ability to review TikTok code. A three person board of national security experts would oversee the company, which TikTok has spent $1.5 billion to build, a source told Reuters.

It’s unclear if TikTok’s new protocols will enable the company to withstand pressure from the Chinese government to provide U.S. data. Tech analysts who spoke to the Daily Caller believe TikTok’s security protocols will not be enough to protect the American people.

Rebeccah Heinrichs, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute believes “[w]e should ban TikTok.”

“We are beyond the ‘trusting and verifying’ word of this company and need to face reality. It isn’t even only the data security issue that must be resolved. The algorithms are toxic and trying to pin down who is deciding those and what the intent is is like pinning jello to the wall,” she added.

“And that’s the problem with dealing with the Chinese Communist Party; they are impossibly opaque and irresponsibly deceptive. We can see very clearly the effect of TikTok has been bad for American society and it needs to be excised and no amount of Chinese explanations or proposals for oversight will change that,” Heinrichs added.

“TikTok sees a U.S. sale as the best path for them but it really does not do anything for the American people. Average Americans are having their data collected and we have no idea what the Chinese will do with it,” Jake Denton, a Research Associate at the Heritage Foundation’s Tech Policy Center, said.

“The only thing that changes is where the data is stored. They are not changing the algorithm and they are still going to keystroke you. Banning TikTok is the only solution. Forcing a U.S. sale will bring us to the exact same point later on down the road,” Denton added.

Clare Morell, former Justice Department official and Policy Analyst at the Ethics & Public Policy Center, has a similar view of TikTok’s security protocols.

“This proposed solution only solves half the problem with TikTok being owned by a Chinese company. Data access by China is of course a huge concern and so moving U.S. user data to a U.S. based subsidiary, so that Chinese employees are no longer able to access it is critical, we don’t want foreign adversaries being able to gain access to U.S data, however, it does not get at the deeper root issue which is that this app is designed and operated by a Chinese company,” Morell said.

“Yes, the Biden Administration should ban TikTok from operating at all in the United States or at the very least require ByteDance to sell its U.S. TikTok operations to an American company or set it up as a standalone company. Our national security and the health and safety of our children depend on it,” Morell added.

The company is negotiating a deal with the Biden administration to address national security concerns without altering its ownership structure, according to the New York Times.

Negotiations have been delayed because of additional national security concerns from U.S. officials about the company’s recommendation algorithm and trustworthiness. (RELATED: House Bans TikTok On Officially Managed Devices)

China-based ByteDance employees allegedly used U.S. user data to monitor the physical location of specific American citizens, according to internal materials obtained by Forbes. A separate Forbes investigation found 300 employees at TikTok and ByteDance previously or currently work for Chinese state media.

ByteDance employees allegedly used U.S. data to spy on Forbes journalist Emily Baker-White, who reported damaging stories about the company, Forbes reported. The outlet claims ByteDance spied on two of its other reporters, which the company could not confirm after its investigation, the New York Times reported.

The four ByteDance employees involved were let go at the conclusion of an internal TikTok investigation, according to NYT. Two were based in the U.S. and two were based in China, the outlet added.

Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, Wisconsin GOP. Rep Mike Gallagher and Illinois Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi have proposed bipartisan legislation to ban TikTok from operating in the U.S. because it could be used to spy on Americans

Over 100 million Americans actively use TikTok, CNBC reported.

“We have been working with CFIUS, led by the Treasury Department, for over two years to address all reasonable national security concerns about TikTok in the U.S.,” a TikTok spokesperson told the Daily Caller.

“We believe those concerns can be fully resolved, and CFIUS is currently considering a comprehensive solution that addresses key issues of corporate governance, content recommendation and moderation, and data security and access. We have made substantial progress on implementing that solution over the past year, and look forward to completing that work to put these concerns to rest,” the TikTok spokesperson added.