Years after former President Donald Trump raised national security concerns about the social media app TikTok, which is particularly popular with younger users, the FBI now admits the app is working on behalf of the Chinese government, which “does not share ours [American] Values.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray warned Friday that Chinese officials have the ability to control TikTok’s recommendation algorithm “which allows them to manipulate content and, if they choose, use it for influencer operations.”
Wray made the comments during a speech at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, where he also said the app collects user data that the Chinese government can then access and use in traditional espionage operations.
“All of these things are in the hands of a government that doesn’t share our values and that has a mission very contrary to what is in the best interests of the United States. That should be our concern,” said Wray Ann Arbor, Mich.
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Wray reiterated those concerns during congressional appearances last month when asked by lawmakers about the app’s functionality and ability to collect data on Americans.
“China’s massive hacking scheme is the largest in the world, and they’ve stolen more personal and business information from Americans than any other nation combined,” Wray told lawmakers.
He also said that TikTok’s dangers “include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control the data collection of millions of users, or the recommendation algorithm that could be used to influence operations if they so choose, or software on millions.” of users to control devices, providing the opportunity to potentially tactically compromise personal devices.”
A week before that hearing, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr urged regulators to ban the app in the United States
“I don’t think there’s a way forward for anything other than a ban,” Carr told Axios at the time. He said there is “no world where you could think of enough protection for the data that you could have enough confidence that it wouldn’t get back into the hands of the data [Chinese Communist Party].”
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The FBI’s push to notify users and lawmakers of these national security concerns comes years after President Trump originally warned people to stop using it.
In 2020, Trump discouraged people from using TikTok and threatened to ban the app in the US. He also said he would oversee a foreclosure sale by the Chinese owner to a US-based company
Last month, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia., said Trump was “right” to track TikTok.
During an appearance on Fox News Sunday on Nov. 20, Warner told host Shannon Bream that the app poses a major threat to Americans’ privacy. He also advised parents against allowing their children to download the app.
“Well, I think Donald Trump was right. I mean, TikTok is a huge threat,” Warner said. “So if you are a parent and you have a child on TikTok, I would be very, very concerned. All of this data that your child enters and receives is stored somewhere in Beijing.”
TikTok has said it won’t give the Chinese government access to user data.
TikTok’s chief operating officer, Vanessa Pappas, said during a Senate hearing in September that the company protects user data and that Chinese government officials don’t have access to it.
“We will never share data, period,” Pappas said.
According to the report, China has repeatedly accessed data from US Tiktok users
TikTok is currently owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, but selling TikTok to a US company could allow for further regulation over the app and prevent data collection from going to a foreign country.
Wray said U.S. officials and ByteDance are currently in talks about a potential settlement.
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TikTok has confirmed that negotiations are ongoing.
“As Director Wray previously said, the FBI’s input will be considered as part of our ongoing negotiations with the US government,” TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter told the Associated Press. “While we cannot comment on the details of these confidential discussions, we are confident that we are on track to fully address all reasonable U.S. national security concerns and have already made significant progress in implementing these resolutions.”
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In the same email statement, TikTok clarified that ByteDance is a private company and that “TikTok Inc., which offers the TikTok Service in the United States, is a US corporation bound by US laws.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.