TikTok is a hugely popular app, with more than 100 million American users; easy, fun, and especially appealing to young adults, teens and children. What could be wrong with that?
Plenty, alas. TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, headquartered in Beijing, and provides a ready conduit for China’s communist regime to acquire vast amounts of personal data on Americans, including phone numbers, facial recognition data, friends, residences, businesses, and other networks. This is both a threat to personal privacy, and a growing danger to U.S. national security.
As Attorney-General William warned, quite accurately, in a July 16 speech on China, China’s ruling communist party “has launched an orchestrated campaign, across all of its many tentacles in Chinese government and society, to exploit the openness of our institutions in order to destroy them.”
If that sounds overwrought, it is not. In a speech on July 7, FBI Director Christopher Wray explained that Chinese is on a vast binge of stealing the personal data of Americans, in order to exploit it not only for business but for strategic military uses. This has included the 2017 hacking of Equifax by members of the Chinese military, in which the Chinese military acquired sensitive information on some 150 million Americans, or nearly half the U.S. population, in that case targeting adults. This is part of a landscape in which today, Wray said, “the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours,” with more than 2,000 active China-related investigations now underway.
China has a growing record of exploiting access to steal U.S. technology, suborn researchers, and generally plunder America for China’s uses under a system that subordinates all enterprises in China to the Chinese Communist Party’s strategic goal of world dominance, and requires all Chinese companies to share any and all information that the Chinese government might demand they turn over.
This is the menace behind the happy face of made-in-China TikTok, which potentially provides China with yet another portal, this time chiefly via America’s youth, for influencing, spying on, stealing from and undermining the United States.
Spelling out the threat in more detail, White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro recently told Fox:
“What the American people have to understand is all the data that goes into those mobile apps that kids have so much fun with and seem so convenient, it goes right to servers in China, right to the Chinese military, the Chinese Communist Party, and the agencies that want to steal our intellectual property.”
“Those apps can be used to steal personal and financial information for blackmail and extortion, they can be used to steal business intellectual property and proprietary secrets.”
That’s why President Trump has been threatening to ban TikTok (India, under growing military threat from China, recently banned a number of widely used Chinese apps, including TikTok.) Given that an outright ban could be hugely unpopular and hard to enforce, Trump has now left the way open — with a mid-September deadline — for Microsoft to negotiate a deal, buying TikTok from ByteDance and turning it into an American-based company.
For now, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently told Fox News, you should download and use TikTok “only if you want your private information in the hands of China’s communist party.”