TikTok’s Chinese Parent Company Has Unlimited Access to American Data

June 26th, 2021 4:37 PM

Former TikTok employees have disclosed that the popular social media platform is largely controlled by its Chinese parent company.

TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, supplies the Chinese government with endless American user data since Chinese law requires its organizations to “support, assist, and cooperate with the state intelligence work.”

TikTok’s privacy policy allows the platform to share user data with ByteDance.

“We may share all of the information we collect with a parent, subsidiary, or other affiliate of our corporate group,” the policy reads

The user data the platform collects is unlimited.

“They’ve collected ten of millions of pieces of data on Americans,” said Lewis. “This is big data. In the U.S. they use it for advertising ... in China, the state uses it for intelligence purposes,” Jim Lewis, senior vice president of the strategic technologies program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a foreign affairs think tank, told CNBC.

Meanwhile, TikTok also downplays the data sharing.

“We employ rigorous access controls and a strict approval process overseen by our U.S.-based leadership team, including technologies like encryption and security monitoring to safeguard sensitive user data,” a TikTok spokeswoman told CNBC.

Former employees of the social media platform say that nearly all of TikTok’s product development is led by ByteDance. Cybersecurity experts say TikTok’s privacy policy opens user information to potential information requests by the Chinese government.

“If the legal authorities in China or their parent company demands the data, users have already given them the legal right to turn it over,” Bryan Cunningham, Executive director of the Cybersecurity Policy & Research Institute at the University of California, Irvine, told CNBC.

In the past, the Chinese government has instructed the platform to censor content that is critical of its government.

In late 2020, the platform came under fire after TikTok’s U.K. Director of Public Policy Elizabeth Kanter admitted during a hearing that the platform had previously censored content that was critical of the Chinese government’s forced labor of Uyghur Muslims in China. Kanter later said she misspoke during. 

Experts say the power to censor content critical of a national government is problematic.

“Anytime [the Chinese government has] control over a platform like TikTok that has billions of users and is only getting more popular, it gives them power to feed our mind what we should think about, what we consider truth and what is false,” Ambuj Kumar, CEO of encryption-based cybersecurity company Fortanix said

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