Update, July 8, 2020 (1:04 AM ET): The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Justice Department have reportedly launched a probe into allegations that TikTok has failed to protect the privacy of children in the US.
Two separate sources told Reuters that they were part of conference calls with the FTC and Justice Department to discuss accusations that TikTok hasn’t upheld an agreement it signed in 2019 to protect children’s privacy. The platform had agreed to delete videos and personal information of users aged 13 and younger. The Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and others have alleged that TikTok has not abided by this promise.
The probe follows Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments about a possible US ban for TikTok (read original article below).
Meanwhile, responding to the privacy allegation, a TikTok spokesman told Reuters that the platform takes “safety seriously” for all its users. The company added that in the US, it accommodates “users under 13 in a limited app experience that introduces additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for a younger audience.”
Original article, July 7, 2020 (5:25 AM ET): TikTok seems to have become an unwilling pawn in the ongoing feud between China and some countries. The short-form video app was recently banned in India citing national security concerns and now it looks like the US is also set to impose curbs on it.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late on Monday that the country is “taking this very seriously” and is “certainly looking at” banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok.
“I don’t want to get out in front of the President [Donald Trump], but it’s something we’re looking at,” Pompeo said in an interview with Fox News.
When asked if Americans should download the app, Pompeo said, “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Pompeo’s statement comes on the back of the ongoing trade tensions between the US and China. We’ve seen it impact Chinese smartphone makers like Huawei and ZTE, while Chinese apps have largely remained safe from added scrutiny in the country. TikTok, however, is an exception.
The US government is already conducting a national security review of the app and its parent company ByteDance. Lawmakers believe that TikTok sends data to servers in China and that its parent company has no option but to share that data with the Chinese government. This is why the US Department of Defense told its employees in January not to install the app until the ongoing national review is completed.
What does TikTok have to say?
TikTok has time and again maintained that it does not share data with Chinese authorities.
Reacting to Pompeo’s comments, a spokesperson told CNBC: “TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the US. We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”
The platform is even planning to exit Hong Kong because of China’s establishment of new national security laws in the region. Still, the app continues to face the ire of nations in conflict with China and that’s something it may have to live with just like Huawei.