Internal security: the Office for the Protection of the Constitution warns of Tiktok risks

internal security
The Office for the Protection of the Constitution warns of Tiktok risks

With more than a billion users worldwide, Tiktok is the only successful online platform in the West that does not come from the USA. photo

© Michael Dwyer/AP/dpa

The pressure on the short video app Tiktok is increasing in the West. In Germany, the protection of the constitution is now also talking about risks. In Washington, a survey in the US Congress turned into a gauntlet run for the Tiktok boss.

The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution sees considerable risks in using the short video app Tiktok. This involves both the scope of the data collected and the possibilities for state influence. For Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser, there is no basis for a general ban on the app in Germany, as is being discussed in the USA. Tiktok boss Shou Zi Chew tried to allay concerns about Chinese espionage and influence in the US Congress on Thursday. He encountered a strong headwind.

Tiktok is under increasing political pressure because the platform belongs to the Bytedance group from China. With more than a billion users worldwide, the service is the only online platform that is also successful in the West that does not come from the USA.

Warning of potential influence

The protection of the constitution referred to ambiguities surrounding the connections to China. “If you look at the amount of data, metadata, content at Tiktok on the one hand, and if you then also look at the possibilities for government agencies to influence such companies, then that can only give you a headache. And I have that.” , said the vice president of the domestic secret service, Sinan Selen, in Berlin. “We’re not clear enough on the extent of what government agencies can access, especially in China — I think that’s the crux of the matter,” he added. Companies like Tiktok are unable to evade such influence.

In the app you can scroll from one short video to the next. A decisive factor for success is the software algorithm, which selects clips individually for each user and constantly adapts them to their preferences. Among other things, it is taken into account whether you have watched a video to the end or scrolled through immediately. In the end, the software has a good idea of ​​the users’ interests. One of the concerns in the West is that this wealth of data could be misused.

Tiktok boss in the US Congress

The Tiktok boss tried in Washington to refute the suspicions about the USA. He emphasized that all American user data is stored on US servers and access to it is strictly monitored. In addition, Tiktok’s recommendation algorithm, which selects the videos for users in America, runs at the US software giant Oracle, which also checks the software codes of the app updates. The current app does not collect any GPS location data or biometric information. The US data previously stored in Singapore is currently being deleted.

However, lawmakers on the House Commerce Committee took a hard cross-party approach to the Tiktok boss and showed little interest in his responses. Chair Cathy Rogers set a sharp tone. “Tiktok monitors us all. And the Chinese Communist Party can use it as a tool to manipulate America as a whole,” the Republican said. The fact that Tiktok has 150 million users in the USA is an alarm signal. She also called Tiktok a “portal for drug dealers”. Democratic Vice-Chairman Frank Pallone said US privacy assurances are not adequate.

Republican MP Buddy Carter said Tiktok uses the algorithm to make users dependent like no other platform. The Chinese Communist Party knows this and is conducting “psychological warfare via Tiktok to influence American children”. Other committee members pointed to the dangers of dares spreading across the platform that could lead to fatalities. Many MPs interrupted the Tiktok boss’s responses by demanding a “yes” or “no” on complex questions.

regulations in other countries

Tiktok rejects all allegations and emphasizes that it does not see itself as a subsidiary of a Chinese company, since Bytedance is 60 percent owned by western investors and the official company headquarters are on the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. Critics counter that the Chinese founders held 20 percent of the control thanks to higher voting rights and that Bytedance has a large headquarters in Beijing. According to media reports, the US government is demanding an exit from Chinese shareholders.

In the USA, Germany and Great Britain, among others, the app is banned from government employees’ work cell phones, including by the EU Commission. The British Parliament joined on Thursday. A law is also in the works in the US Congress that could give President Joe Biden the power to ban the app altogether. Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump had already tried to force the sale of Tiktok’s international business with a threat of a ban. However, he was stopped by US courts, which saw a lack of legal basis for the action.

Interior Minister Faeser (SPD) said during a visit to Washington that she did not see any general ban on the app in Germany. However, you have to clarify more that Tiktok is a company where “the data can of course leak”.


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