Leaked audio from 80 internal TikTok meetings reveal that private data from Americans has been repeatedly accessed from China, according to a new report from BuzzFeed, which described the practice as "exactly the type of behavior that inspired former president Donald Trump to threaten to ban the app in the United States."
Trump notably issued an Executive Order which warned that TikTok's "data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information."
And then Biden, whose son Hunter dealt with CCP-linked individuals on a regular basis (even sharing office space), revoked the ban...
According to the report, TikTok employees said that Chinese engineers for parent company ByteDance could access nonpublic US user data from at least September 2021 through January, and that their ability to access the data was 'farther reaching than previously known.'
In September, one TikTok director said that a Chinese engineer was a "Master Admin" who "has access to everything."
Later that month, a member of TikTok's Trust and Safety department allegedly said that "everything is seen in China."
The risk, of course, includes espionage:
Lawmakers’ fear that the Chinese government will be able to get its hands on American data through ByteDance is rooted in the reality that Chinese companies are subject to the whims of the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party, which has been cracking down on its homegrown tech giants over the last year. The risk is that the government could force ByteDance to collect and turn over information as a form of “data espionage.”
There is, however, another concern: that the soft power of the Chinese government could impact how ByteDance executives direct their American counterparts to adjust the levers of TikTok’s powerful “For You” algorithm, which recommends videos to its more than 1 billion users. Sen. Ted Cruz, for instance, has called TikTok “a Trojan horse the Chinese Communist Party can use to influence what Americans see, hear, and ultimately think.” -BuzzFeed
When asked, a TikTok spokesperson, Maureen Shanahan, gave a vague answer.
"We know we’re among the most scrutinized platforms from a security standpoint, and we aim to remove any doubt about the security of US user data," she told BuzzFeed. "That’s why we hire experts in their fields, continually work to validate our security standards, and bring in reputable, independent third parties to test our defenses."
One day before the BuzzFeed article hit TikTok appeared to panic, publishing a blog post to announce that the company had changed the "default storage location of US user data" and that as of today, "100% of US user traffic is being routed to Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. We still use our US and Singapore data centers for backup, but as we continue our work we expect to delete US users' private data from our own data centers and fully pivot to Oracle cloud servers located in the US."
Let's dig a little deeper though, courtesy of Ben Tallmadge (@BenTallmadge01), who notes in a Friday Twitter thread that TikTok cut their lobbying budget by 80% after Biden lifted the Trump ban.
Meanwhile, TikTok has served as a revolving door for Washington DC insiders, including a former senior adviser to Nancy Pelosi and James Clyburn, the former Deputy Staff Director of the House Energy & Commerce Committee during the Obama years, a former Kevin McCarthy staffer, and a former staff director for the Senate, among others.
But hey, no more mean tweets.