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English/Español: Rubio, Warner Call for Investigation Into TikTok After Chinese Communist Party’s Access to U.S. Data Comes to Light
Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Lina Khan requesting that the FTC formally investigate TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance. The senators’ call comes in response to recent reports that the social media platform has permitted TikTok engineers and executives in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to repeatedly access U.S. users’ private data, despite repeated claims to lawmakers and users that this data was protected. This includes instances in which staff based in the United States had to consult with their PRC-based colleagues for information about U.S. user data as they did not have access to the data on their own.
The report also highlights TikTok’s misrepresentation of the company’s relationship to ByteDance and its subsidiaries, including Beijing-based ByteDance Technology, which is partially owned by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). These revelations undermine longstanding claims by TikTok’s management that the company’s operations were firewalled from the CCP’s demands.
“We write in response to public reports that individuals in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been accessing data on U.S. users, in contravention of several public representations, including sworn testimony in October 2021,” the senators wrote.“In light of this new report, we ask that your agency immediately initiate a Section 5 investigation on the basis of apparent deception by TikTok, and coordinate this work with any national security or counterintelligence investigation that may be initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice.”
The full text of the letter is below.
Dear Chairwoman Khan:
We write in response to public reports that individuals in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been accessing data on U.S. users, in contravention of several public representations, including sworn testimony in October 2021. In an interview with the online publication Cyberscoop, the Global Chief Security Officer for TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, made a number of public representations on the data security practices of TikTok, including unequivocal claims that the data of American users is not accessible to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the government of the PRC. As you know, TikTok’s privacy practices are already subject to a consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission, based on its improper collection and processing of personal information from children. In light of this new report, we ask that your agency immediately initiate a Section 5 investigation on the basis of apparent deception by TikTok, and coordinate this work with any national security or counter-intelligence investigation that may be initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Additionally, these recent reports suggest that TikTok has also misrepresented its corporate governance practices, including to Congressional committees such as ours. In October 2021, TikTok’s head of public policy, Michael Beckerman, testified that TikTok has “no affiliation” with another ByteDance subsidiary, Beijing-based ByteDance Technology, of which the CCP owns a partial stake. Meanwhile, as recently as March of this year, TikTok officials reiterated to our Committee representations they have previously made that all corporate governance decisions are wholly firewalled from their PRC-based parent, ByteDance. Yet according to a recent report from Buzzfeed News, TikTok’s engineering teams ultimately report to ByteDance leadership in the PRC.
A series of national security laws imposed by the CCP, including the 2017 National Intelligence Law and the 2014 Counter-Espionage Law provide extensive and extra-judicial access opportunities for CCP-controlled security services. Under these authorities, the CCP may compel access, regardless of where data is ultimately stored. While TikTok has suggested that migrating to U.S.-based storage from a U.S. cloud service provider alleviates any risk of unauthorized access, these latest revelations raise concerns about the reliability of TikTok representations: since TikTok will ultimately control all access to the cloud-hosted systems, the risk of access to that data by PRC-based engineers (or CCP security services) remains significant in light of the corporate governance irregularities revealed by BuzzFeed News. Moreover, as the recent report makes clear, the majority of TikTok data – including content posted by users as well as their unique IDs– will remain freely accessible to PRC-based ByteDance employees.
In light of repeated misrepresentations by TikTok concerning its data security, data processing, and corporate governance practices, we urge you to act promptly on this matter.
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Washington, D.C. — El vicepresidente del Comité Selecto de Inteligencia del Senado de EE.UU. Marco Rubio (R-FL) y el presidente del comité Mark Warner (D-VA) le enviaron una carta a la presidenta de la Comisión Federal de Comercio (FTC, por sus siglas en inglés) Lina Khan, solicitando que la FTC investigue formalmente a TikTok y su empresa principal, ByteDance. El llamado de los senadores se produce tras informes que la plataforma social ha permitido a los ingenieros y ejecutivos de TikTok en la República Popular China (RPC) acceder, en repetidas ocasiones, a la información privada de los usuarios de EE.UU. Esto incluye casos en los que el personal radicado en EE.UU. tuvo que consultar con sus colegas basados en China para obtener información sobre los datos de los usuarios en EE.UU., ya que no tenían acceso a la información.
El informe también destaca la tergiversación de TikTok sobre la relación de la compañía con ByteDance y sus subsidiarias, incluyendo la empresa ByteDance Technology, la cual es propiedad parcial del Partido Comunista Chino (PCCh, por sus siglas en español) y cuya sede es en Pekín. Estas revelaciones socavan alegaciones de la gerencia de TikTok que las operaciones de la empresa fueron bloqueadas por las demandas del PCCh.
“Escribimos en respuesta a informes públicos que personas en la República Popular China (RPC) han estado accediendo a datos de usuarios en EE.UU., en contravención de varias representaciones públicas, incluyendo el testimonio jurado en octubre del 2021”, escribieron los senadores. “A la luz de este nuevo informe, solicitamos que su agencia inicie de inmediato una investigación de la Sección 5 sobre la base de un aparente engaño por parte de TikTok, y coordine este trabajo con cualquier investigación de seguridad nacional o contrainteligencia que pueda iniciar el Departamento de Justicia de EE.UU.”
El texto de la carta en inglés está aquí.