Sen. Blackburn Scrutinizes TikTok for Data Collection Practices


Big Tech In Focus Again

Another social media giant has come under fire for invasive data collection practices.

TikTok, the famous app which allows its users to watch short viral videos, create content, or build a following, was scrutinized by Senator Blackburn in a Senate Commerce hearing. The representative for TikTok during the hearing was Head of Public Policy Michael Beckerman in its first appearance in a congressional hearing.

The hearing had large national security implications as well.

The Chinese government acquired a 1% stake and a board seat in Beijing ByteDance Technology, a key subsidiary company of Bytedance, which is the maker of TikTok in August this year. Beijing ByteDance technology oversees Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, and news aggregator Toutiao. According to Reuters, both Douyin and Toutiao have hundreds of millions of users in China.

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TikTok Data Collection Practices

Sen. Blackburn (R-TN) questioned Beckerman if TikTok shares its data with the Chinese government, to which Beckerman responded in the negative.

It was revealed by Blackburn in the hearing, however, that TikTok’s privacy policy indicates that it ‘disclose data collected to respond to government inquiries’ and that it ‘shares data collected with parent companies and affiliates’. To which she adds that the Chinese government recently acquired a stake in ByteDance’s affiliate, Beijing ByteDance Technology.

Blackburn also questioned Beckerman on whether there are engineers who are housed in China, and whether they have access to algorithms and data—to which Beckerman was unable to reply effectively.

“Senator, we have engineers in the United States and throughout the world,” he said; in which Blackburn responded with “that answer is a yes.”

Is TikTok a Privacy Nightmare?

It was revealed as well in the hearing that the depth of data collected by TikTok is quite intrusive. Beyond search queries, biometrics, and geolocation; even keystrokes and rhythms, voiceprints, faceprints, not just in TikTok but in other apps are being collected as well.

Notably, the majority of users of TikTok are not just millennials but adolescents and pre-adolescents as well. According to Statista, 25% of its users are aged 10 to 19 years of age.

With this much data being collected on kids, it’s a good sign that it is being scrutinized in its data collection.  

Reactions to TikTok Story

“Kids as young as 9 have died doing viral challenges on TikTok," said @MarshaBlackburn in her opening statement.

Given china's propensity to surveil its own citizens, why should we assume that they aren't doing the same to American citizens on TikTok through ByteDance? – @MarshaBlackburn at @SenateCommerce

Sen. @MarshaBlackburn : “thousands of parents all across Tennessee…are wondering how it is even possible that a tech company is getting away with encouraging criminal behavior in its underage users.” #CongressionalRecord via @SenateFloor @TikTok_us

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