As a result of the recent revelation of a damaging study concerning TikTok staff getting the data of U.S. customers, the company is in the midst of intense suffering. The timing of this revelation, which comes as a sizable portion of the US population wants to have TikTok outlawed entirely, ensures that the app will be front and center as the 2024 election season heats up.
Earlier today (Thursday), ByteDance, the firm that owns TikTok, announced the findings of an internal probe. ByteDance has admitted that four of its Chinese workers stole the information from two TikTok accounts belonging to American journalists. And it certainly wasn’t meant to happen on TikTok.
High-profile opponents of TikTok, such as Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, are bolstered by the findings. Hawley’s legislation to prohibit TikTok on U.S. government equipment passed the Senate a little over a week ago. It has yet to pass the House of Representatives. Still, states like Texas, North Dakota, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Utah, West Virginia, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Tennessee, Alabama, Virginia, Nebraska, and Montana have all passed laws prohibiting the use of TikTok on government-owned devices.
Most importantly, the report doesn’t provide incriminating specifics about what was done with the data. If you imagine that Xi Jinping received a hard copy that was clipped into a dossier and presented to him, you’re probably wrong. Instead, it seems that a small group of ByteDance workers who were keeping an eye out for leakers within the company were able to track down the user data and IP addresses of U.S. reporters in a doomed but devilishly ingenious attempt to determine whether or not ByteDance workers who were under suspicion of leaking were ever in close proximity to the journalists. No one was able to make it happen, and rumor has it that they all lost their jobs as a result.
However, Hawley and his supporters have made it clear that they believe TikTok is being used as something much scarier: a spying apparatus for the Chinese Communist Party. For instance, Hawley’s Republican colleague Senator Ted Cruz tweeted that TikTok tends to “dodge” questions about the communists and that “it’s clear they’re spying on users.” Evidence that TikTok is part of China’s ultimate plot to, uh, make Americans communist may be a reach at this time. But can the act of data acquisition itself constitute a scandal? Absolutely.
This is due to the fact that in 2019 when TikTok was just beginning to gain prominence on the internet and stories about it frequently included passages that raised questions about its ties to the Chinese government, the company’s U.S. team released a set of sweeping claims regarding the safety of user information. The most crucial of these promises is that data from American users are not sent to ByteDance’s Chinese headquarters. That’s what the American team may have believed when they made its claim, but after what happened on Thursday, the firm has admitted that wasn’t the case.
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Additionally, it has been said in the past that ByteDance aids Chinese propaganda. For the record, ByteDance refutes at least one of these claims, which was written by one of the two journalists ByteDance acknowledges having spied on, Emily Baker-White.
Senate star Marco Rubio is also vocally opposed to TikTok and has filed legislation to prohibit it nationally just before this news came out (something former president Donald Trump tried to do unilaterally in 2020, but was stopped by the courts). Rubio goes a little over the top in his press statement against the measure. “We know it answers to the People’s Republic of China. There is no more time to waste on meaningless negotiations with a CCP-puppet company.”
TikTok is now going through a time of tremendous hardship due to the recent disclosure of devastating research on TikTok employees obtaining the data of U.S. users. TikTok will be front and center as the 2024 election season heats up, and the timing of this discovery couldn’t be better. A substantial majority of the US populace wants to have the app blocked outright.
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