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Why TikTok's DC lobbying campaign is likely pointless

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 3/20/2023 Tom Rogan
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TikTok, the popular social media app, is engaged in what is likely to be an expensive and ultimately pointless effort to avoid new U.S. restrictions. The central challenge facing TikTok?

A bipartisan consensus in Congress is highly skeptical of the app's Beijing-based ByteDance owner.


But TikTok hasn't given up hope. Its CEO will testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday. In preparation, Bloomberg reports that "TikTok bought ads in the Washington, D.C., metro system, at Union Station and in the Washington Post, and sponsored Politico’s Playbook newsletter as well as Axios’s Login tech-focused newsletter. A four-page color ad in the New York Times on Monday included a QR code linking to TikTok’s U.S. Data Security website."

The problem with this ad buy?

Congress will view TikTok-related security concerns as unsolvable unless ByteDance sells the company to a U.S. owner. This understanding reflects the great influence of the Chinese Communist Party on major Chinese corporations. It also reflects the vast and varied amount of personal data that TikTok collects on its users and the associated risk of that data being accessed by Chinese government officials.

Two further contexts underline why Congress is highly unlikely to offer TikTok a compromise.

First, the app's vast hoovering up of user data reeks of association with China's espionage strategy. As with the 2014 Office of Personnel Management hack and the 2017 Equifax hack, Chinese intelligence services pursue the industrial-scale collection of personal data in order to identify valuable information or sources of information. Beijing's interest here centers on accessing privileged economic, scientific, government, or security data or on identifying people who might be vulnerable to spying for China.

Then there's the nature of the Communist Party's corporate espionage efforts. Chinese leader Xi Jinping's regime doesn't simply use nominally independent corporations as deniable intelligence services. It also designs the operations software behind these corporations in a way that provides for deniable or accidental data-gathering.

When it comes to China's Huawei telecommunications firm, for example, engineers deliberately built in security flaws that could later provide for future intelligence exploitation by those aware of the flaws — aka Chinese intelligence officers. This use of flaws as a foundation for intelligence collection allows China the excuse of simply saying, "Oh, we apologize for this security flaw and will fix it," in the event a flaw is detected. The problem is how to detect all the flaws before it's too late. As applied to TikTok, then, Congress can have no confidence that any newly pledged security protocols will actually resolve the app's security threat. The only way to do that is for the app to come under U.S. ownership and thus be subject to a fundamental security examination and, if necessary, redesign.

Put simply, TikTok can't spend its way out of the espionage threat hole its owners have dug themselves into.



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Tags: Opinion, Beltway Confidential, TikTok, China, Espionage, Lobbying, Foreign Policy, National Security, Technology

Original Author: Tom Rogan

Original Location: Why TikTok's DC lobbying campaign is likely pointless


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