To date, Challenge Texas seems to be primarily an train in geography, one which appears well-positioned to deal with issues in regards to the Chinese language authorities accessing People’ private data. Nevertheless it doesn’t tackle different ways in which China may weaponize the platform, like tweaking TikTok algorithms to extend publicity to divisive content material, or adjusting the platform to seed or encourage disinformation campaigns.
Adam Segal, director of the Digital and Our on-line world Coverage program on the Council on International Relations, advised BuzzFeed Information that the Chinese language authorities’s affect on TikTok’s algorithms is a extra urgent concern than knowledge exfiltration. “I’ve by no means seen a very good argument about what the Chinese language may get from TikTok knowledge that they will’t get from tons of of different sources,” he stated. However he did level to examples of the Chinese language Communist Get together utilizing know-how to warp digital discourse, together with TikTok’s previous censorship of speech dangerous to China’s “nationwide honor,” and a 2020 attempt by a China-based Zoom worker to disrupt video conferences commemorating the Tiananmen Sq. bloodbath.
TikTok vehemently denies accusations that it censors speech essential of China at this time. And members of TikTok’s Belief & Security crew, which makes and enforces content material insurance policies for the corporate, portrayed it as comparatively nicely insulated from ByteDance affect. Staff described Belief & Security employees as having much less frequent contact with Beijing, and clearer strains of reporting, than different workers that BuzzFeed Information spoke to — and described TikTok’s Belief & Security practices as much like these adopted by US-based tech giants. Nonetheless, the query of reporting construction looms giant: Like different senior TikTok officers, its head of Belief & Security stories to TikTok’s CEO, who stories to ByteDance as TikTok’s company proprietor. And so long as the buck stops with ByteDance, “there’s a ceiling” to how a lot TikTok can distance itself from the Chinese language authorities, Lewis stated.
US lawmakers have made clear that their issues about TikTok transcend the place knowledge is saved. In a 2019 tweet, Sen. Chuck Schumer stated that beneath Chinese language legislation, TikTok and ByteDance “may be compelled to cooperate with intelligence work managed by China’s Communist Get together.” At an October 2021 Senate hearing, TikTok’s Head of Public Coverage for the Americas Michael Beckerman testified that TikTok’s privateness coverage permits it to share the data it collects (together with US consumer knowledge) with ByteDance. He declined to reply questions from Sen. Ted Cruz about whether or not the coverage permits TikTok to share that knowledge with Beijing ByteDance Know-how, one other ByteDance subsidiary that’s partially owned by the Chinese language Communist Get together.
On the similar listening to, Sen. Marsha Blackburn requested Beckerman whether or not ByteDance workers had entry to TikTok’s algorithm. Beckerman, circuitously answering the query, stated that US consumer knowledge is saved within the US. Blackburn additionally requested whether or not there are programmers, product builders, and knowledge groups in China engaged on TikTok. Beckerman confirmed that there are.
Lawmakers past the US have additionally raised issues about TikTok’s relationship with China. In June 2020, the Indian authorities banned TikTok, WeChat, and greater than 50 different Chinese language apps after a conflict on the India–China border that killed 20 Indian troopers. India’s regulatory physique, the Ministry of Electronics and Data Know-how, alleged that the apps have been “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting” Indian consumer knowledge to knowledge facilities exterior of India. In August 2020, intelligence businesses in Australia began investigating whether or not TikTok poses a safety risk to the nation. In September 2021, Eire’s Information Safety Fee opened an investigation into how TikTok transfers consumer knowledge to international locations exterior the EU.
The similarities between completely different international locations’ regulatory issues about TikTok and China emphasize the potential significance of Challenge Texas. If it succeeds within the US, the undertaking could function a roadmap for TikTok in different jurisdictions (maybe even in India, the place it has been banned). It might additionally function a mannequin for different giant corporations, like Amazon, Fb, and Google, which face related issues from abroad regulators about accumulating their residents’ private data.
Graham Webster, editor-in-chief of the Stanford–New America DigiChina Challenge on the Stanford College Cyber Coverage Heart, sees TikTok as “a guinea pig” for lawmakers’ inherent skepticism about international corporations accumulating their residents’ knowledge. Nonetheless, Webster says he’s optimistic, as a result of ByteDance has a heavy incentive to get regulators totally snug with TikTok.
“It is a firm that’s on the lookout for a approach for this to really work,” he stated. “They’re going to maintain attempting till there’s an apparent defeat, as a result of the sum of money on the desk is gigantic.” ●