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FutureStarrUS Urged TikTok to Part Ways With Chinese ByteDance
The United States is pressuring TikTok to part ways with its Chinese parent company ByteDance, as US lawmakers are growing increasingly worried that the app could be used for spying on Americans and censoring content in favor of China's Communist Party.
Last month, nine US senators sent a letter to TikTok in which they expressed their dissatisfaction with the app's promises of protecting user data. As a result, TikTok moved some of its American user data onto a new server hosted by Oracle Corp in an effort to address those concerns.
Last week, US lawmakers sought to resolve the tumult surrounding TikTok's Chinese parent company ByteDance by pressing its CEO and Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas to leave her company. She was one of several executives questioned by senators on social media's role in national security during a hearing held by the Senate Homeland Security Committee last Thursday.
At the hearing, Chinese authorities sought to use data gathered from ByteDance's video-sharing app TikTok, which was initially developed in China but now operates worldwide under their control. At the hearing, Pappas insisted her company does not send user data to China and denied reports that employees of ByteDance had accessed users' personal information in the United States.
Pappas played an integral role in TikTok's growth into a global phenomenon with hundreds of millions of users. She stressed the significance of staying true to TikTok's mission of inspiring creativity and bringing joy to consumers.
Her duties also included driving platform and creator growth across key markets and user segments. Eventually, she was promoted to general manager for North America, Australia and New Zealand.
Since Pappas took over TikTok's North American business, she has helped it expand to reach over half a billion monthly users. Furthermore, her expertise lies within online media production and online media distribution - something which she plans to utilize as the company continues its growth trajectory.
In an interview with Glamour, Pappas expressed her enthusiasm for the job due to its focus on community. TikTok provides people with a platform where they can share their personal stories and connect with friends; additionally, celebrities are available for viewing as well as exploring e-commerce options. She believes TikTok will continue to evolve as people continue to discover more of what interests them.
At TikTok, Pappas was given the task of overseeing North American business. She strived to make sure TikTok would become a successful platform for American users by building an experienced team around her and eventually led it to become one of the most popular platforms in America.
TikTok is a beloved social media platform with millions of users around the world, but it's also facing increasing bipartisan opposition in Washington over its connections to China-based parent company ByteDance. TikTok's success in America has given it access to an effective lobbying team and the chance to defend itself against critics.
The US government is closely scrutinizing TikTok's operations, and the Chinese company has been forced to make adjustments. Since CFIUS started investigating them, ByteDance has separated its teams working on TikTok and those responsible for its mainland China counterpart, Douyin. Furthermore, it is considering creating a new "management board" and setting up a US headquarters.
ByteDance's restructuring comes as its US leadership team faces increasing pressure from lawmakers to reduce China's influence over American companies and consumers. Michael Beckerman, who oversees TikTok's US public policy, was hired earlier this year to help defend against criticism and establish the company's presence in Washington.
One of Beckerman's primary tasks is to ensure Congress accepts TikTok as a legitimate app, encouraging families to connect and providing accurate health information to young people. He must spread the message that using this app can promote family unity and foster healthy lifestyles among teens.
He is responsible for combatting the growing bipartisan call to ban TikTok from federal agencies and government phones. Additionally, he works to persuade lawmakers that TikTok isn't a front for China's government but rather an honest social media platform which safeguards its users against pedophilia.
Last month, Beckerman faced tough questions from a congressional committee regarding TikTok's relationship with Chinese ByteDance. During the hearing, he assured lawmakers that TikTok does not share user data with Chinese authorities and has worked to protect US data.
He refused to answer queries regarding how Beijing ByteDance Technology, a sister company with an executive affiliated with China's Communist Party on its board, is permitted to access TikTok users' data.
ByteDance has taken a series of measures to keep their US operations separate and minimize scrutiny from the Trump administration. These steps include moving stores of the app's data onto US servers and restricting Chinese managers' access to those servers as part of an ongoing initiative dubbed "Project Texas."
At the start of this year, the United States demanded TikTok discontinue its partnership with Chinese ByteDance due to concerns that Beijing could use its national security laws against them to coerce TikTok into handing over American users' personal data.
Therefore, TikTok's leadership team has been actively engaged in addressing policymakers' concerns with voluntary technical and bureaucratic safeguards that they claim will guarantee US user data is only accessible by US employees. Their initiative, known as Project Texas, involves storing user data on Oracle and other American companies' servers.
However, TikTok's efforts to convince policymakers of the necessity for its data protection policies have proved more challenging than anticipated. According to recent evidence, ByteDance employees in China can still access US user data without authorization and TikTok has yet to fully implement Project Texas initiatives.
A BuzzFeed News review of more than 80 recordings of internal TikTok meetings and interviews with nine former employees, many who worked on the platform's Trust and Safety Department, revealed that Chinese-based ByteDance engineers have repeatedly access to personal information belonging to U.S. and European TikTok users.
Audio captured by TikTok's senior management team indicates that Chinese ByteDance engineers have access to all users worldwide; however, other instances demonstrate specific instances where Chinese ByteDance employees had accessed user data in either the United States or Europe. One US-based employee asked one Chinese ByteDance engineer for a list of all TikTok users worldwide who had searched for a term, liked a certain category of videos or interacted with TikTok content in some way.
Another US-based employee working on the United States Technical Services team confirmed that a Chinese ByteDance engineer had access to all personal information of all team members. A third US-based worker confirmed that this same Chinese ByteDance Engineer also had access to TikTok's systems to view what content people were watching and their location.
TikTok, known for its short videos that can be shared online, has a large user base in the United States. Although video content isn't monetized directly by TikTok, they may gain revenue through advertising or sponsorships.
TikTok has come under political scrutiny from US legislators. They express concerns about its potential to censor or influence political debate, as well as security and privacy issues.
As such, US lawmakers have been advocating for TikTok to part ways with Chinese ByteDance, the owner of the app. Doing so would give more control to a U.S. company and is something many GOP legislators desire.
TikTok already faces legal threats from several state governments, which could potentially prevent the app from continuing operations in America.
The US government's approach to TikTok is complex, but may not be as bad as it seems. They have attempted to find a way for TikTok to continue operating in the US; however, this would prove challenging and could ultimately backfire on them.
One of the major issues is that banning TikTok won't stop other apps and data brokers from collecting user data or monitoring their activities, nor will it stop China from collecting that same data.
The administration is seeking a balance, which would allow TikTok to remain in the United States but ensure it does not store or share U.S. consumer data with Chinese intelligence services.
Unfortunately, banning TikTok won't solve the problem. Banning one app won't stop other less regulated applications and data brokers from abusing consumer privacy or Chinese intelligence to obtain data.
Paul Triolo, senior vice president for China and technology policy at Albright Stonebridge Group, describes this case as one of the most complex and delicate in China. That is because it involves politics, technological innovation, and security threats interacting.