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US and TikTok Draft Deal To Resolve National Security Concerns

The Biden Administration and social media platform TikTok are drafting a deal to resolve concerns over the company’s data policies and its threat to U.S. national security. TikTok is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.

The resolution would allow ByteDance to keep ownership of the company but would make changes to its “data security and governance,” according to The New York Times. The two parties are still negotiating the terms of the deal, which aims to protect American data from the Chinese government.

The Justice Department is steering the negotiations with TikTok. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who was also a national security official in President Obama’s administration, believes that the current agreement terms are not rigorous enough to adequately protect national security. The Treasury Department is also involved in the negotiations and is skeptical that the deal will sufficiently protect American data. The Treasury Department plays a significant role in approving agreements that have the potential to incite national security vulnerabilities.

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The hesitancy from the government may drag out the final resolution for months. TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew insists that the company is not interested in sharing U.S. data with the Chinese government and considers itself a “separate US-based entity subject to U.S. laws.” Chew asserts that TikTok has “not provided U.S. user data to the CCP, nor would we if asked.”

“Employees outside the U.S., including China-based employees, can have access to TikTok U.S. user data subject to a series of robust cybersecurity controls and authorization approval protocols overseen by our US-based security team.”

However, ByteDance still owns TikTok, and some ByteDance employees can still access TikTok user data. With midterms set for November, politicians turned their attention back to the security issue.

According to the deal, TikTok would store its American data on U.S. servers, likely run by the tech company Oracle, instead of its servers in Singapore and Virginia. Oracle would monitor TikTok algorithms for foreign government interference in user content recommendations. The worry is that the Chinese government will be able to use those recommendations to influence American users and politics. TikTok would also have to create a board of security experts to report to the U.S. government to oversee its actions.

Jake Williams, a former National Security Agency hacker, spoke about how Chinese government access to U.S. data creates a power imbalance between the two countries.

“Let’s assume for a second that U.S. intelligence has access to WeChat. They would have to fight hard for that access, and it would constantly be at risk of discovery and neutralization. China, on the other hand, doesn’t have to fight for access to TikTok; they have it by statutory authority.”

Williams continues, “the potential for Chinese data collection across the platform is a larger concern, especially when combined with other data already acquired by Chinese state actors.”

TikTok announced last week that it would ban political fundraising on its platform to prevent politicians from using it to grow their campaigns.

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In 2020, former President Donald Trump tried to force the sale of TikTok over similar national security concerns. TikTok initially agreed to sell a part of TikTok to Oracle, but the deal never came to fruition. The Biden Administration is taking a more nuanced approach to regulating the company’s access to American data.

Kian Vesteinsson, a research analyst for the nonprofit Freedom House, which advocates for political freedom, said that “there are definitely signs that Chinese influence efforts are likely to grow, linked to the Chinese government’s strategy more broadly of digital authoritarianism.”

“But it’s important for us to acknowledge that the U.S. government has its own shadowy national security surveillance authorities. And in recent years, U.S. government agencies have monitored social media accounts of people coordinating protests in the U.S. and done things like searched electronic devices throughout the country and at the border. These sorts of tactics undermine the idea that this is only a foreign threat.”

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US Looking Into Banning Tik Tok And Other Social Media Apps From China

The United States is looking to potentially ban certain social media apps that come from China in an attempt to increase security access between the two countries. The main app that’s in question is Tik Tok, and according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the administration is taking this matter “very seriously.” 

Tik Tok alone has become one of the most popular social media apps on the internet currently. The free platform allows users to make videos that are up to a minute long and edit them with intricate filters, sound effects, music, graphics, and more. The feed algorithm on the app allows users timelines to be filled with content Tik Tok thinks you’ll like based on other posts you’ve liked and who you follow. 

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This specific algorithm is one of the reasons that Tik Tok has grown so much in popularity within the past year, as users can have any sort of interest and likely find a hashtag/page geared towards it. However, Pompeo made it clear in an interview with Fox News that Tik Tok was the administration’s number one priority in terms of platforms to potentially ban. 

Pompeo also went onto state that smartphone users should only download the app if “you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” however, a spokesperson working for Tik Tok in America was quick to refute these claims that the app gives personal information to the Chinese government. 

“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 never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”‘

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The United States and China have been experiencing major tensions within the past few years in general. These recent remarks from Pompeo are likely a direct result of that as well. National security, trade, and technology was at the center of all tensions between the two nation’s governments, and once Covid-19 became an issue that stemmed from a market in China, the pressure began to boil over. 

Tik Tok is in fact owned by a Beijing-based startup company known as ByteDance, and has been often criticized by the US government for being a potential threat to national security due to its ties to China. Once again, the administration has been quoted multiple times alleging that the company “could be compelled to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” despite there being no evidence to prove that. 

Tik Tok has made statements in the past regarding security and claims that the company operates through data centers located outside of China, so none of the data is subject to Chinese law. Data for US users specifically is stored in the US with backups in Singapore, according to the company. This past May an executive spokesperson claimed that “the national security concerns are unfounded.”

India’s government has also claimed they would ban Tik Tok and other Chinese apps due to a posed “threat to sovereignty and integrity,” which also likely fueled the US to follow suit. With over 40 million American users, however, it’s likely the app won’t be going anywhere without a good fight from social media users across the country.

US China Trade War

What Will The New Decade Bring For The US – China Trade War?

One of the key issues of 2019 was the conflict between America and China, which seems likely to continue throughout 2020. While President Trump’s “war” against many of the top Chinese technology firms – including Huawei – has made headlines for most of the year, the stories that China has banned a majority of America’s consumer content-based technologies, or that there has been political pressure placed on many western technology giants could easily have been missed. However the new decade looks like there will be further restrictions placed on technology between countries.

One of the major factors has been the “splinternet” that has seen some governments decide which content its citizens can find online. Countries including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia are continuing to filter what is being shown in their countries, however, there are many other countries around the world who appear to be having smaller restrictions on certain areas of content – including specific websites such as news sites, content sharing, communication platforms and the majority of social media.

While content censorship is increasing throughout the world, technology companies have continued their hold over many other countries. For instance, a majority of countries now use a desktop and mobile operating system that is favored by American companies. With travel rates also increasing, this has become a necessity with travelers expecting to step off an airplane in any given country and be able to connect to the internet from their device.

Back in December there was talk that Huawei – frustrated at America’s continuing ban resulting in them being unable to access American technology – is about to start creating their own Android software and services. As the world’s largest manufacturer of telecoms equipment – Huawei already has 42% of the Chinese market as well as over 25% of the Russian market – the likelihood of success seems increased. While other companies have tried to compete against Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android over the last decade, it seems the 20s could be the year of new operating systems.

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Also in December, the Chinese state media confirmed they would be launching an alternative to the United States’ GPS satellite navigation system. ‘Beidou’ has been seen as a major disconnection from the standard US technology with China stating that Beidou’s 35 satellites will be a higher standard than the current global gold standard GPS network.

With 70% of smartphones in China ready to utilize the new network it seems that the market is already there for Beidou – Chinese for “Big Dipper” – with the service working towards promoting 5G services and adoption.

However Beidou will not be restricted to China as there will be a major campaign to convert South East Asian, Eastern European and African markets to the new network. Working along the same vein as their new Belt and Road initiative, the GPS system will also provide higher accuracy levels that are usually kept for military or security specialists.

At the Council on Foreign Relations in November Ajit Pai, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced that “you don’t have to look hard to find evidence that the Chinese government is willing and able to use its growing influence over global commerce to advance its own interests.”

Pai’s words appear to be centered on the way China is utilizing its influence to reduce the recent criticism of its domestic policies as well as Huawei’s role in the investment of 5g networks worldwide.

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The beginning of 2020 is in stark contrast to the beginning of 2010. A decade ago there were many theoretical divides whereas now they’re becoming a reality. Due to the trade war many countries are finding themselves in a position where they have to decide between Chinese commerce and investment or America’s security and political engagement, with Russia’s President Putin referring to the issue as “the first technological war of the coming digital era,” highlighting the fact that this trade war could lead into something that could be much more powerful in the upcoming years.

So what will be happening in 2020? Canada is currently looking at the request from America to extradite Meng Wanzhou – Huawei’s CFO – while both Germany and the United Kingdom are still looking into whether they will allow Huawei into their networks.

Huawei are also launching their P40 device, which could lead to a competitor to Google’s software as well as their services throughout the worldwide markets.

The US Commerce Department is also due to make a decision on whether they will loosen supplier restrictions on companies based in the United States, which could affect the election during the second half of the year.

If there is a massive change in the way technology is used across the world there could be significant implications to travelers as well as consumers. While China would see an increase on its influence over the rest of the world, America could see a loss on their material market share.