What just happened? Once again, the incredibly popular TikTok has come under fire from US politicians over claims that the Chinese are using it to spy on US users. The bipartisan warning comes as the Biden administration considers a deal that would allow the app to continue operating in the United States.
Senate Intelligence Committee chair Mark Warner warned of the dangers posed by TikTok, which has over 138 million active users in the US, calling it an "enormous threat." The Virginia Democrat backed Donald Trump's moves to prohibit the app in 2020. The former president signed an executive order to ban TikTok and WeChat in the US, but Biden replaced and revoked the orders in June. Biden's new order directed the Commerce Department to review apps tied to foreign adversaries.
"Well, I think Donald Trump was right," Warner told Shannon Bream on Fox News Sunday. "So if you're a parent, and you've got a kid on TikTok, I would be very, very concerned. All of that data that your child is inputting and receiving is being stored somewhere in Beijing."
Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton was equally damning "It's not just the content you upload to TikTok but all the data on your phone, other apps, all your personal information, even facial imagery, even where your eyes are looking on your phone," he said on the Fox program, adding that TikTok is "one of the most massive surveillance programs ever, especially on America's young people."
There have been growing calls for tougher action against TikTok recently. Earlier this month, FCC commissioner Brendan Carr said a national ban from the Apple App and Google Play Stores should be implemented. He said there is very little confidence about the company's ability to properly handle US users' data.
Meanwhile, as noted by Bloomberg, Republican lawmakers Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin have said they're introducing legislation to ban TikTok from use in the US. There was also a warning from FBI Director Christopher Wray to a house panel over Chinese government access to users' data.
The Biden administration is still considering a proposal that would allow TikTok to continue operating in the US. It would include routing US user traffic through servers maintained by Oracle, which would also audit the app's algorithms. Additionally, TikTok claims it is working on a project that will isolate data from American users so it can only be viewed by employees in the US.