Why the FBI Is Concerned About TikTok

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FBI Director Chris Wray believes TikTok poses threats to national security as a Chinese-owned app “that doesn’t share our values” and could “manipulate content.” The popular video-sharing app, owned by the Chinese technology company ByteDance, boasted more than 1 billion active global users last year, a majority of which are American.

Wray voiced similar concerns last month at a House Homeland Security Committee hearing, claiming that China’s ruling Communist Party could use the app to push influence through TikTok’s powerful recommendation algorithm and by collecting user data or controlling software for espionage purposes.

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“All of these things are in the hands of a government that doesn’t share our values and that has a mission that’s very much at odds with what’s in the best interests of the United States,” Wray said at a speaking engagement at the University of Michigan on Friday. “That should concern us.”

National security laws in China require private companies operating in the country to provide their data to the government if requested. American concerns around the app’s security have persisted since TikTok launched six years ago and became the most downloaded app in the U.S. in 2018.

“The Chinese government has shown a willingness to steal Americans’ data on a scale that dwarfs any other,” Wray said. He added that Americans should be very concerned about giving China “that much ability to shape content,” “engage in influence operations” and “access to people’s devices.”

Former President Donald Trump vocalized his alarm about TikTok in 2020 and set a deadline for TikTok to find an American buyer if the app wanted to continue operating in the U.S. Under the Biden administration, that ban was revoked in 2021, but Biden issued an executive order to investigate apps connected to foreign adversaries.

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In September, TikTok Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas testified at a Senate hearing that the company doesn’t store American data in China. This year, TikTok operations in the U.S. pivoted to routing the app through Oracle, an American software company, to ensure stricter content moderation that’s less susceptible to influence from Chinese authorities.

Dialogue continues in Washington about the app’s safety and future, and last month Republican Marco Rubio and Republican Representative Mike Gallagher proposed legislation that they hope will ban TikTok for good. Lawmakers from both parties have indicated concern about TikTok, including Democratic Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner.

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