Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) speaks on his cell phone after voting the day after the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uwald, Texas, on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 25, 2022.
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
Sen. Michael Bennett, D-Colo., urged CEOs an apple and Google to immediately remove TikTok from its mobile app stores in a letter Thursday, citing widespread concerns that the Chinese government could gain access to information about Americans who use the app.
A request by Bennett, who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, highlights both growing concern over TikTok’s potential national security risks and the ability of Apple and Google to decide what apps Americans can access.
Bennett told the CEOs of both companies that TikTok is different from other social media platforms because of its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, which would be required by Chinese law to hand over internal data to the government to help with intelligence work.
“Beijing’s demand raises the obvious risk that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could use TikTok against the U.S., particularly by forcing ByteDance to hand over sensitive Americans’ data or manipulate content Americans receive to advance China’s interests,” Bennett wrote. “These obvious risks make TikTok in its current form an unacceptable threat to the national security of the United States.”
TikTok has repeatedly tried to reassure concerned U.S. lawmakers and officials that it does not store U.S. user data in China. He has also been in talks with the US government about how he can reduce potential national security risks by continuing to work here.
But so far, many lawmakers remain unconvinced, and late last year Congress passed a bill banning TikTok from government devices. Others have suggested banning TikTok entirely in the US. Restrictions on TikTok have also spread to several states and universities to varying degrees.
In his letter, Bennett cites a BuzzFeed News article from last year based on tapes of internal meetings that revealed employees at TikTok’s Chinese parent company had repeatedly accessed information about American TikTok users. Bennett also referenced a recent Forbes article describing TikTok’s practice of “heating up” or boosting select videos to help them go viral.
Bennett said this raises the “very real possibility that the CCP could force TikTok, through ByteDance, to use its influence to advance the interests of the Chinese government, for example by tweaking its algorithm to feature content from Americans to undermine US democratic institutions or to silence criticism of CCP policies.” in relation to Hong Kong, Taiwan or its Uyghur population.’
“Unfortunately, Senator Bennet’s letter is based almost entirely on misleading reporting about TikTok, the data we collect, and our data security controls,” said TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter. “It also ignores the significant investment we’ve made through Project Texas—a plan coordinated with our nation’s leading national security experts—to give our community additional assurances about the security of their data and the integrity of the TikTok platform.”
Apple and Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
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