Senators: TikTok App May Be Tool of China

There is now another reason for parents to monitor your kids' social media apps. U.S. lawmakers are raising concerns about the popular social media app TikTok---which allows users to post short videos---being a potential national security threat. At issue is TikTok's parent company, Bytedance, which is based in China. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently sent a letter to the acting director of national intelligence asking for a security review into TikTok, for its potential to be used as a tool for the Chinese government. Specifically, they write that Chinese laws may compel companies like Bytedance "to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party."

The senators are also worried that TikTok could be used by the Chinese government for a broad foreign influence campaign in the U.S. "The fear is that this company based in Beijing would be able to get access to (Americans') private information," says Jeffrey Addicott, terrorism law professor at St. Mary's University in San Antonio. "And when you've got a closed society like China that has that data, you could open yourself up for some real security problems."

TikTok reportedly has over 110 million downloads in the U.S. For its part, Bytedance says TikTok only operates in the U.S. and all of its user data on Americans is stored here. Still, Sens. Cotton and Schumer in their letter call TikTok "a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore."

While Addicott understands the need for scrutiny like this, he cautions lawmakers to tread cautiously when it comes to legislation. "I'm just not sure that the government would be able to regulate cyberspace," he says. "I don't think they have the capacity to do it, and I'm not really comfortable with the government running much of anything, myself."

Ultimately, he believes security is in the hands of users---especially parents---who need to educate themselves on which apps they or their children access. "Just be very aware that if you're dealing with a company that's run by a nation that does not adopt our democratic principles, then you could be at risk," says Addicott.

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