TikTok Trying to Win Allies in the US Over Data Concerns

TikTok ban

The clock could be ticking for one of the most popular social media apps in the world. TikTok is trying to win more allies in the United States.

For years, TikTok has had U.S. lawmakers sounding the alarm over national security concerns, due to the app being owned and developed by a Chinese company named ByteDance. 

Lawmakers worry the Chinese government is using the app to gain access to personalized data on American citizens. A law in China could require a company like ByteDance to hand over any kind of collected data. 

Data like “faceprints and voiceprints.” 

TikTok collects a lot. Names, ages, phone numbers, email addresses, details about the devices and mobile networks users are on, keystrokes, messages on the app, and even biometric information such as “faceprints and voiceprints.” 

TikTok’s algorithm also tracks what users watch and how much time they spend on each video so it can better tailor the content it serves them, giving the app key insights into behavior patterns, likes, and dislikes.

While the social media app’s data collection practices are not unlike its competitors, it has links to China. This adds a sinister layer to the debate. 

TikTok wants to convince the West, especially the U.S., that it’s just another social media platform. This is even as the immensely popular short-form video app has been banned from U.S. federal government devices and by several state governments. Several lawmakers and officials want to go even further and ban TikTok completely. 

Government and intelligence officials say the risk is clear. TikTok has admitted that its data, even if stored outside Chinese borders, can be accessed by employees in China, and recent revelations that the company tracked journalists who were writing about it has further heightened the alarm at its possibility.

President Joe Biden last month banned TikTok from nearly 4 million federal devices. That’s after Maryland, South Dakota, and Nebraska took things into their own hands and banned it from government devices. 

But now, two years into negotiations with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., ByteDance reportedly has a plan it hopes will convince critics it’s not a national security threat.

For months, TikTok has been housing its American users’ data in a California-based cloud software company. Now, it’s reportedly offering to spend $1.5 billion to build out a unit that would oversee all the data, as well as its algorithm. The reported plan is to hire 2,500 people, none of whom would be Chinese nationals.

ByteDance is trying to walk a fine line in talks with U.S. officials. Its goal is to maintain ownership of TikTok in the U.S., but also make the app’s operations more transparent and silo it off in a separate unit overseen by U.S. government-approved employees. TikTok is trying to convince lawmakers that with these measures in place, the app won’t pose a threat to U.S. citizens.

If TikTok doesn’t reach a deal, the U.S. government could try to force ByteDance to sell parts of its operations or leave the U.S. market.

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