Before you read:
- House bans TikTok on government devices over ‘security risks’
- South Dakota bans TikTok among state employees, contractors over ties to Chinese government
A new study from the Georgia Institute of Technology claims TikTok poses no threat to U.S. national security.
The finding comes as more and more states are banning employees from using the Chinese social video platform on government devices. On Dec. 30, 2022, President Joe Biden signed an omnibus legislation that includes a similar measure.
The study, which was published on Monday, questions whether TikTok can be considered a tool of information warfare, a form of espionage and/or a tool for offensive cyber operations.
Researchers also weighed such dangers against the costs and risks of enforcing a ban.
Conducting threat analysis based on an original framework, the researchers found that TikTok does not pose a national security threat due to its history, organizational structure and nature as a commercially motivated enterprise.
The study also disputed allegations that the app exports Chinese censorship, citing an array of topics that are “easily” found on the platform, including pro-Taiwan independence, pro-Hong Kong independence, Uyghur oppression and exploitation and ridicule of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The study authors also found that the data collected by TikTok is “very similar” to the data already collected by its competitors. They stressed that such data “can only be of espionage value if it comes from users who are intimately connected to national security functions and use the app in ways that expose sensitive information.”
Meanwhile, costs and risks of a ban include internet fragmentation, the threat of Chinese retaliation, loss of business by established users and loss of competition in the social media market.
The authors argued that “core American values” are at stake because a ban diverges from U.S. principles and values of “a free and open Internet and globally competitive markets.”
National security concerns arising from TikTok’s data collection practices were first raised by the Trump administration, which ultimately failed to enforce a total ban of both TikTok and WeChat.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee, resounded those concerns in November 2022, saying the Chinese government could use TikTok to “control data collection on millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations.”
Last June, a BuzzFeed investigation exposed alleged leaked audio from TikTok internal meetings. Those recordings reportedly contained statements accusing Chinese engineers of accessing U.S. user data between September 2021 and January 2022, with one director claiming that a Beijing-based “Master Admin” has access to “everything.”
Read the full study here.