Bipartisan concerns about TikTok grow in the US Senate [Chris Castle]
Government concerns about TikTok have taken a back seat to other Washington dramas in recent weeks. However, some influential Senators from both parties are determined to keep the focus on TikTok’s connection to the Chinese Communist Party and the Ministry of State Security and the dangers that it creates.
by Chris Castle from Music Tech Policy
The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they do turn. As MTP readers will recall, I have had grave concerns about the TikTok trojan horse from the time the app was first injected into the U.S. (See my 2020 post, Why Is TikTok Getting Banned? China’s National Intelligence Law.).
I have no illusions about the phenomenally consistent ability of the music industry to misalign clicks/views/likes with cold hard cash, so I was not surprised to see the extraordinarily stupid “blind check” deals get trotted out so that TikTok could continue child data scraping, courtesy of the Footman of TikTok.
Both the record companies and the publishers are equally guilty of making it easy for TikTok to use their artists and their artists’ music as a honeypot for TikTok’s nefarious activities that I think will be proven to be illegal and likely criminal. Sleep well, kids.
If you watched any of the various TikTok hearings before the US Congress, you’ll know that I’m not the only one who is concerned. U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal and Marsha Blackburn are continuing to beat the drum on TikTok’s connection to the Chinese Communist Party and the Ministry of State Security–because the TikTok story is straight out of the mind of George Orwell.
The two Senators sent this letter to TikTok. Of course, one can only expect so much when it comes to the integrity of tech companies, but that’s no reason to stop holding their feet to the fire, so to speak.
United States Senate
October 3, 2023
Mr. Shou Zi Chew
Chief Executive Officer
5800 Bristol Parkway, Suite 100
Culver City, CA 90230
Dear Mr. Chew:
We write regarding reports that TikTok has recently hired several high-level executives from its Chinese parent company ByteDance, further calling into question the independence of TikTok’s operations and the security of its U.S. users’ information.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that “[s]ince the start of the year, a string of high-level executives have transferred from ByteDance to TikTok,” moving from China to the U.S., including after the departure of U.S. executives.1 The former ByteDance executives have reportedly assumed influential roles overseeing TikTok’s “advertising business, human resources, monetization, business marketing and products related to advertising and e-commerce initiatives” and have brought their own staff from Beijing.”2 These changes were alarming enough that employees raised concerns about the lack of a true separation from ByteDance — reportedly joking that TikTok is solving its ByteDance problem by moving ByteDance to the U.S.
The relationship between ByteDance and TikTok poses a unique risk to the security and privacy of TikTok’s users in the United States. TikTok executives, including personnel based in China, have been found spying on American journalists, and, in leaked recordings, its staff acknowledged that “everything is seen in China.”3 As the intelligence community has repeatedly warned, Chinese national security laws provide the Chinese government significant legal control over any data within the reach of Chinese companies, thereby putting any data held by ByteDance in the reach of the Chinese government.4 [This is exactly what I warned about in 2020.]
In response to these widespread concerns, TikTok has repeatedly made commitments and representations to the American public about the independent management of TikTok’s operations, the limited role of ByteDance, and the security of U.S. users’ information. You have attempted to distance TikTok from ByteDance and promised a separation that “amounts to a firewall that seals off protected US user data from unauthorized foreign access,” with “American data stored on American soil by an American company, overseen by American personnel.”5
However, the recent move of many ByteDance executives to the U.S. seemingly undermines this assertion to Congress and the public. The personnel changes give the impression that TikTok is attempting to preserve ByteDance’s influence over TikTok while avoiding suspicion. [aka lying.] Once again, TikTok’s actions appear to align with a pattern of misleading actions and broken commitments regarding serious matters related to users’ safety and national security, which we noted in a previous letter to you.6
We are concerned these personnel changes undermine the security of U.S. data and the representations TikTok has made about its independence from ByteDance. As such, please fully answer the following questions by October 13:
- Prior to December 31, 2022, how many employees were hired by TikTok who had previously worked at ByteDance?
- Since January 1, 2023, how many employees have been hired by TikTok who previously worked at ByteDance?
- Please identify the roles of all current TikTok employees who previously worked at ByteDance?
- Were these personnel changes disclosed to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States prior to the report in the Wall Street Journal?
- What security protocols are you imposing on ByteDance employees that transfer from China to the U.S.?
- Are there any rules, restrictions, or controls on communications between TikTok employees who were previously employed at ByteDance and personnel based in China?
- How does TikTok supervise or oversee communications between its employees who were previously employed at ByteDance and personnel based in China?
- [Who do you report to at the Ministry of State Security?]
United States Senator
United States Senator