The TikTok Threat that Reveals a Deeper Threat from China

The clock keeps ticking for the popular video sharing app, TikTok. On Friday, the Trump administration extended a deadline, initial set for November 12, to give the Beijing-based owner, ByteDance Ltd., an additional fifteen days to find an American buyer—or face restrictions that would ban the app’s use in the United States. 

CFUIS reviews that began last year raised alarms that ByteDance’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party could jeopardize personal information of some 175 million TikTok users in the United States. In a report in this summer, China Tech Threat once again highlighted these ongoing concerns. More recently, in a 60 Minutes interview last weekend, U.S. Senator Josh Hawley said “under Chinese law, ByteDance is required to share data with the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok is only the tip of the iceberg. China has been building a database of Americans’ sensitive data for years. In 2015, the Washington Post revealed China’s targeting of government agencies and U.S. health insurance companies. More recently, the Chinese government has turned to its state-backed companies to obtain that information through commercial channels—although this data mining is unbeknownst to most users.

“The Chinese have fused their government and their industry together so that they cooperate to achieve the ends of the state,” explains Klon Kitchen, director of technology policy at the Heritage Foundation.

Immediate restrictions on apps like TikTok are a “worthy goal,” Kara Frederick, fellow for technology and national security at the Center for New American Security, wrote recently. But “the doling out of executive orders piecemeal — company-by-company and as the threat arises — will be more difficult to defend going forward.”