TikTok to See Chaotic 2023 as Biden Approves Ban on App for Devices Used by Federal Employees - The Jewish Voice
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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

TikTok to See Chaotic 2023 as Biden Approves Ban on App for Devices Used by Federal Employees

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Edited by: Fern Sidman

President Biden approved a limited TikTok ban Thursday when he signed the 4,126-page spending bill into law, as was reported by NBC News.  The ban prohibits the use of TikTok by the federal government’s nearly 4 million employees on devices owned by its agencies, with limited exceptions for law enforcement, national security and security research purposes, the NBC report indicated.

Given the increasing scrutiny of TikTok, which is owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, it could be just the beginning of challenges to come for the app. NBC News reported.

The renewed pressure on the app under the Biden administration comes two years after a proposed ban by then-President Donald Trump was stopped in court. NBC News reported that aince 2020, a bubbling movement led largely by conservatives has maintained an interest in a TikTok ban.

Last week, the Jewish Voice reported that some employees of TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance have found themselves in hot water. According to published reports, four ByteDance employees have been handed their pink slips after the discovery was made that they had been who improperly accessing the personal data of two journalists on the platform. This was confirmed last Thursday to CNN by TokTok spokesperson, Brooke Oberwetter.

According to the CNN report, ByteDance said the employees accessed TikTok user data from two journalists who worked for the Financial Times and BuzzFeed as the company was  investigating potential employee leaks to the press.

CNN reported that two of the four employees were based in the United States while the other two were based in China. The investigation of the employees was conducted by an outside law firm on behalf of ByteDance. TikTok and ByteDance CEOs revealed this last Thursday to employees in two separate e-mails, according to the CNN report.

According to the ByteDance spokesperson, the personal data accessed from the journalists’ accounts included IP addresses which can provide information about a user’s location, as was reported by CNN.

“The individuals involved misused their authority to obtain access to TikTok user data,” TikTok CEO Shou Chew said in his email to employees, according to an excerpt of the email reviewed by CNN. “This is unacceptable.”

US lawmakers have raised concerns about the security of user data and the ability for the company’s Chinese employees to access information about US TikTok users.

The criticism ramped up earlier this year after a BuzzFeed News report said some US user data has been repeatedly accessed from China, and cited one employee who allegedly said that “everything is seen in China.” TikTok, for its part, has confirmed US user data can be accessed by some employees in China, but the company says that a US-based security team decides who can access US user data from China, as was reported by CNN.

In October, Forbes reported that ByteDance planned to use TikTok data to surveil certain US citizens. In recently published report, Forbes named three journalists who had been tracked by the company. (TikTok declined to comment on whether a third journalist had indeed been affected.) The New York Times also reported that several of the journalists’ contacts on TikTok had also gotten wrapped up in the tracking, which the company declined to confirm, CNN reported.

On December 14th, it was reported that Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, along with Reps Mike Gallagher (R-WI) & Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL)  introduced bipartisan legislation to ban TikTok from operating in the United States. The Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party Act (ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act) would protect Americans by blocking and prohibiting all transactions from any social media company in, or under the influence of, China, Russia, and several other foreign countries of concern.

The United States is locked in a new Cold War with the Chinese Communist Party, one that senior military advisers warn could turn hot over Taiwan at any time. Yet millions of Americans increasingly rely on TikTok, a Chinese social media app exposed to the influence of the CCP, to consume the news, share content and communicate with friends.

Senator Rubio said: “The federal government has yet to take a single meaningful action to protect American users from the threat of TikTok. This isn’t about creative videos — this is about an app that is collecting data on tens of millions of American children and adults every day. We know it’s used to manipulate feeds and influence elections. We know it answers to the People’s Republic of China. There is no more time to waste on meaningless negotiations with a CCP-puppet company. It is time to ban Beijing-controlled TikTok for good.”

Representative Gallagher said, “TikTok is digital fentanyl that’s addicting Americans, collecting troves of their data, and censoring their news. It’s also an increasingly powerful media company that’s owned by ByteDance, which ultimately reports to the Chinese Communist Party – America’s foremost adversary. Allowing the app to continue to operate in the U.S. would be like allowing the U.S.S.R. to buy up the New York Times, Washington Post, and major broadcast networks during the Cold War. No country with even a passing interest in its own security would allow this to happen, which is why it’s time to ban TikTok and any other CCP-controlled app before it’s too late.”

Representative Krishnamoorthi of Illinois said, “At a time when the Chinese Communist Party and our other adversaries abroad are seeking any advantage they can find against the United States through espionage and mass surveillance, it is imperative that we do not allow hostile powers to potentially control social media networks that could be easily weaponized against us. The bipartisan ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act is a strong step in protecting our nation from the nefarious digital surveillance and influence operations of totalitarian regimes. Recent revelations surrounding the depth of TikTok’s ties to the CCP highlight the urgency of protecting Americans from these risks before it’s too late.”

“The misconduct of these individuals, who are no longer employed at ByteDance, was an egregious misuse of their authority to obtain access to user data,” Oberwetter said in a statement Thursday, as was reported by CNN. “This misbehavior is unacceptable, and not in line with our efforts across TikTok to earn the trust of our users.”

In response to the incident, TikTok said it has restructured its internal audit and risk teams, and removed access to US user data for those teams, according to the spokesperson, CNN reported. “We take data security incredibly seriously, and we will continue to enhance our access protocols, which have already been significantly improved and hardened since this incident took place,” Oberwetter said.

CNN also reported that the Financial Times said that “spying on reporters, interfering with their work or intimidating their sources is completely unacceptable. We’ll be investigating this story more fully before deciding our formal response,” according to a statement included in a report from the newspaper.

A spokesperson for BuzzFeed said in a statement to CNN that it is “deeply disturbed” by the disclosure, calling it a “blatant disregard for the privacy and rights of journalists as well as TikTok users.”

“It’s even more troubling that this comes in the wake of a series of reports by BuzzFeed News that exposed major issues within its parent company, from employees accessing American users’ data from China to ByteDance’s attempts to push pro-China messaging to Americans,” the BuzzFeed spokesperson said.


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