The heads of two top U.S. intelligence agencies have, in recent days, issued separate warnings about concerns surrounding the video-sharing app TikTok, owned by Chinese-based company ByteDance.
Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines delivered the most recent advisory, speaking with NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell at the Reagan National Defense Forum over the weekend, where she commented on how countries like China have become adept at extracting personal information through apps downloaded to Americans’ cellular devices, namely via TikTok.
“It is extraordinary the degree to which China in particular – but they're not the only ones, obviously – are, you know, developing just frameworks for collecting foreign data and pulling it in and their capacity to then turn that around and use it to target audiences for information campaigns or for other things, but also to have it for the future so that they can use it for a variety of means that they're interested in,” Haines said in part.
When asked directly if parents ought to be concerned over privacy implications for children and young teens on the app, Haines said she thinks “you should be,” adding: “It is extraordinary how open we are is a society in the amount of information that we put into, you know, public venues that then can be accessed, but also through commercial means as well.”
Haines is not the only voice in the U.S. intelligence community warning about TikTok’s far-reaching impact across the country.
Last week, FBI Director Chris Wray raised national security concerns about the app, warning Friday that control of the popular video sharing app is in the hands of a Chinese government “that doesn’t share our values.”
Wray said the FBI was concerned that the Chinese had the ability to control the app’s recommendation algorithm, “which allows them to manipulate content, and if they want to, to use it for influence operations.” He also asserted that China could use the app to collect data on its users that could be used for traditional espionage operations.
“All of these things are in the hands of a government that doesn’t share our values, and that has a mission that’s very much at odds with what’s in the best interests of the United States. That should concern us,” Wray told an audience at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.
Those concerns are similar to ones he raised during congressional appearances last month when the issue came up. And they’re being voiced during ongoing dialogue in Washington about the app.
Concerned about China’s influence over TikTok, the Trump administration in 2020 threatened to ban the app within the U.S. and pressured ByteDance to sell TikTok to a U.S. company. U.S. officials and the company are now in talks over a possible agreement that would resolve American security concerns, a process that Wray said was taking place across U.S. government agencies.
“As Director Wray has previously said, the FBI’s input is being considered as part of our ongoing negotiations with the U.S. Government,” TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said in an emailed statement. “While we can’t comment on the specifics of those confidential discussions, we are confident that we are on a path to fully satisfy all reasonable U.S. national security concerns and have already made significant strides toward implementing those solutions.”
At a Senate hearing in September, TikTok Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas responded to questions from members of both parties by saying that the company protects all data from American users and that Chinese government officials have no access to it.
“We will never share data, period,” Pappas said.
The fight to ban the app is also playing out on a local level in several states.
Wisconsin’s Republican representatives in Congress on Tuesday called on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to delete the video platform TikTok from all state government devices, calling it a national security threat.
The request comes a week after South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, banned state employees and contractors from accessing TikTok on state-owned devices, citing its ties to China. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, also a Republican, on Monday banned TikTok from all state government devices.