FBI is ‘extremely concerned’ about China’s influence through TikTok

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FBI Director Christopher Wray looks on as he testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing entitled “Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. August 4, 2022. 

Jim Bourg | Reuters

Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers Tuesday that he is “extremely concerned” about TikTok’s operations in the U.S.

“We do have national security concerns at least from the FBI’s end about TikTok,” Wray told members of the House Homeland Security Committee in a hearing about worldwide threats. “They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users. Or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations if they so chose. Or to control software on millions of devices, which gives it opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal devices.”

Wray’s remarks build on those from other government officials and members of Congress who have expressed deep skepticism about the ability of the Chinese-owned video platform to protect U.S. user information from an adversarial government. TikTok has maintained it doesn’t store U.S. user data in China, where the law allows the government to force companies to hand over internal information.

Wray said that law alone was “plenty of reason by itself to be extremely concerned.”

TikTok did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Wray’s remarks.

But reporting from Forbes has cast doubt on the security of U.S. user information at TikTok. The outlet reported, for example, that TikTok’s parent company ByteDance planned to use the app to monitor specific location details of certain American citizens, citing materials it reviewed. TikTok pushed back on the report, denying that it had ever tracked certain U.S. citizens with their specific locations and slamming Forbes for publishing the allegations.

Wray said that any details about TikTok’s actions would have to be discussed in a classified briefing. But he assured lawmakers that “it is certainly something that’s on our radar and we share your concerns.”

The Biden administration has reportedly been nearing a deal with the company to allow it to keep operating in the U.S. under more stringent security measures, according to The New York Times. Wray said the FBI’s foreign investment unit is working through the Department of Justice to help come up with a suitable solution as part of the foreign investment review process. He said the FBI’s input “would be taken into account in any agreements made to address the issue.”

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