Different levels of government throughout the U.S. are clamping down on social media app TikTok, with some states outright banning the usage of the app in their jurisdictions.
At the federal level, two senators are requesting that the company explain the “misleading or inaccurate” responses about the ways in which the company stores data on U.S. users and then provides access to that data. Recent reports by media organizations raised significant questions about how the social media platform – which is owned by ByteDance, a firm based in China – handles some of the sensitive information it collects.
Senators Marsha Blackburn and Richard Blumenthal sent a letter on Tuesday to Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of TikTok, citing a report that Forbes published recently. That report revealed that TikTok stored the financial information that content creators in the U.S. had to input in order to get paid by TikTok on servers that are based in China.
Among the sensitive information that is stored on those servers are the tax IDs and Social Security numbers of the U.S. creators.
A separate report published by The New York Times back in May said employees of TikTok regularly share information about users on an app known as Lark, which is an internal messaging app employees use. ByteDance officials, who are based in China, have easy access to that information.
The information in question includes, among other things, driver’s license information from some users in the U.S.
In response to Forbes publishing the fact that the senators sent the letter to TikTok, a spokesperson for the company, Alex Haurek, said:
“We are reviewing the letter. We remain confident in the accuracy of our testimony and responses to Congress.”
Many times in the past, TikTok has reiterated that any server they have that stores the user data on people from the U.S. are either physically stored in Singapore or Virginia. The major ongoing issue, though, is who has access to that data and where they are located.
Back in March, Chew testified at a congressional hearing, during which he said that access to TikTok data is given out “as required” to engineers who are located across the globe for purposes directly related to their business.
He also said that some employees at ByteDance still had access to some of the user data for Americans, though that would no longer continue once its Project Texas is complete. That project involves the company siphoning off all user data for Americans from China.
Many governments in the west have become increasingly concerned about the Chinese government gaining access to this data and doing bad things with it.
While former President Donald Trump was very aggressive in threatening ByteDance, nothing happened before he left the White House. Current President Joe Biden has threatened to put in a nationwide ban on TikTok if the China-based owners of the app don’t sell their full stakes in the company.