TikTok use by military poses security risk, US regulator testifies

US army soldiers driving armoured vehicles in a convoy at the Vay Adam Military Training Base near Hajduhadhaz, northeastern Hungary. Several military branches bar TikTok from official devices, but there’s ‘pervasive use on personal devices, so I think that’s a challenge we need to address’, said Carr. — MTI via AP

US military members are risking national security with their use of the TikTok social-media service, according to a federal communications regulator who has been pushing for the video-sharing app to be removed from online stores.

Several military branches bar TikTok from official devices, but there’s “pervasive use on personal devices, so I think that’s a challenge we need to address”, Brendan Carr, a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission, told a House panel Wednesday.

“We’re very concerned about that data flow back to Beijing,” Carr said. “With TikTok, this is a device right in your pocket. It’s going inside of the military installations. You’re looking at location data, which can give people information about troop movements.”

Carr testified at a House hearing on protecting service members and veterans from fraud and financial scams. The session was held by the National Security subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

“We cannot have a conversation about veteran scams without talking about the information theft that is occurring on foreign-owned apps like TikTok,” said Representative Glenn Grothman, a Wisconsin Republican.

TikTok has been questioned by US officials over whether private data on Americans may have been handed over to the authoritarian regime in China. In a letter last month, Carr asked Apple Inc and Google to remove the popular video app from their stores. During Wednesday’s hearing, Carr said he was waiting for Apple’s response. A person familiar with the matter said Google has responded.

TikTok response

TikTok, owned by ByteDance Ltd, said in a June 30 letter that certain China-based employees can access information from US users, but denied information goes to the Chinese Communist Party.

“Commissioner Carr’s claims about TikTok seem to pull from outdated information, misreadings of our privacy policy and inaccurate reporting from BuzzFeed,” a TikTok spokesperson said in an email Wednesday. “Although the FCC does not have jurisdiction or expertise in national security issues related to apps and app stores, we look forward to briefing Commissioner Carr’s staff on our efforts to keep US user data secure.”

This month, the social network said certain employees outside the US who clear internal security protocols can access information from American users. TikTok also said it’s working with the US government to strengthen the security around user information – particularly anything defined as “protected” by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, or CFIUS.

The new effort includes physically storing US information in data centres on US servers owned by software giant Oracle Corp.

Video uploads

Carr on Wednesday said TikTok “functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data”.

“US service members around the world have participated in a viral TikTok trend where they upload video and audio of their barracks,” Carr told lawmakers. “Hundreds of video tours have been posted from not only multiple US installations but as far afield as the United Kingdom, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Germany and Afghanistan.”

The FCC doesn’t regulate the app stores. But in recent years the agency has barred some Chinese-based telecommunications providers from the US market, citing security risks. – Bloomberg

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