Exercise caution when using Chinese apps like TikTok
If you’ve ever used the popular app TikTok, then the personal data from your phone – like browsing history, contacts, messages, and your location – could have been sent to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Whether you realize or not, the app is quietly downloading your private information. If you are one of the over 500 million people around the world using TikTok monthly – your information is at risk.
In America, we cherish liberty and privacy and expect U.S. companies to respect those values and incorporate them into the products and technologies they create. The CCP, on the other hand, has a different set of values and views liberty and privacy as threats rather than rights. Absolute control of information and technology are foundational to how the CCP organizes its economy and controls its companies. As a result, it has built a legal system that forces technology companies to work with their government compelling them, without restriction, to share information with the Communist-controlled government.
A recent U.S. lawsuit has alleged TikTok transferred vast quantities of private and personally-identifiable user data to servers in China. And just last month, another U.S. lawsuit was filed against TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, alleging it violated child privacy laws by collecting the data of Musical.ly users under the age of 13 without their parents’ consent and then sold that data to third-party advertisers. While these are ongoing cases, they reinforce the dangers of trusting applications and technologies under the control of the CCP.
Beyond the frightening data-collection tactics TikTok uses, it also engages in censorship in mainland China with dangerous implications around the world. In China, social media platforms like TikTok are censored by the CCP to control what content its users see in order to shape perceptions in line with their authoritarian worldview. Chinese companies are required by law to moderate online behavior that deviates from the political goals of the CCP, obey the CCP’s censorship directives, and participate in China’s espionage. Due to this control, events such as the Hong Kong protests, which generated tens of thousands of search results on social media platforms not controlled by the CCP, were noticeably absent from TikTok.
The CCP will use whatever means possible to influence people and bend the world order in its favor to better grow its power. For instance, the CCP is working through international organizations, such as the U.N., to legitimize its authoritarianism. Recently, a vote was held at the U.N. that will harm human rights and empower authoritarian states such as China. The Russian-drafted and Chinese-sponsored resolution “Countering the use of information and communications technologies for criminal purposes” passed out of the UN’s Third Committee by a vote of 88-58. This resolution would create an alarming international treaty that establishes a set of norms that endorse state control of the internet and rejects the free and open internet.
Education and awareness are important as we make decisions that impact future generations of Americans. But action is critical. The United States and our allies and partners have the duty to stand up to the CCP’s expansion of control and influence. We can do that by increasing public awareness of companies that conform to CCP censors, and by maintaining our leadership on the world stage in order to fight back against the international institutionalization of authoritarianism.
That is why I am doing all I can to highlight this threat and support the action of the administration including my House-passed bill to promote U.S. leadership in 5G at international standards setting bodies and by launching a campaign this year to educate the public and members of Congress about the growing threats posed by the CCP.
Chairman Xi Jinping and his CCP are on the march to grow their influence and power around the world. Technology and data are a key enabler for their malign efforts. We must recognize the inherent risks of using Chinese technologies and focus instead on safe alternatives that support the values we all share.
McCaul is the lead Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and former chairman of House Homeland Security Committee.
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