US senators call for intelligence probe into Chinese-owned app TikTok

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose product competes with TikTok particularly for younger users, attacked the app over censorship concerns. (Reuters)
Updated 25 October 2019

US senators call for intelligence probe into Chinese-owned app TikTok

  • Concern is growing in the United States about security and censorship issues involving TikTok
  • Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose product competes with TikTok particularly for younger users, also attacked the app over censorship concerns

SAN FRANCISCO: US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Tom Cotton on Wednesday asked intelligence officials to investigate whether the popular Chinese-owned app TikTok poses national security risks.
In a letter to Joseph Macguire, acting director of national intelligence, the senators raised concerns about the video-sharing platform’s collection of user data and whether China censors content seen by US users. The letter also suggested TikTok could be targeted by foreign influence campaigns.
Concern is growing in the United States about security and censorship issues involving TikTok, owned by Beijing-based tech company ByteDance, and other China-owned content platforms. Senator Marco Rubio has asked US authorities to review allegations that the Chinese government uses TikTok for political censorship.
“With over 110 million downloads in the US alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” wrote Schumer, the Senate’s senior Democrat, and Cotton, a Republican senator from Arkansas.
They urged investigators to look into the issue of TikTok’s collection of users’ location-related data and other sensitive personal information.
TikTok has said US user data is stored in the United States, but the senators noted that ByteDance is governed by Chinese laws.
This month, Rubio asked a US national security panel to review ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly Inc. He cited questions about why TikTok had “only had a few videos of the Hong Kong protests that have been dominating international headlines for months.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, whose product competes with TikTok particularly for younger users, also attacked the app over censorship concerns.
TikTok has said China would not have jurisdiction over the app’s content because the app does not operate in China.
“The Chinese government does not request that TikTok censor content,” a TikTok spokeswoman said in a statement to Reuters. “To be clear: We do not remove videos based on the presence of Hong Kong protest content.”
The spokeswoman said TikTok did not have other details on the senators’ request.
“TikTok is committed to being a trusted and responsible corporate citizen in the US, which includes working with Congress and all relevant regulatory agencies,” she said.
In a separate statement published on its website on Friday, the video app said it is not influenced by any foreign government, including that of China.
“TikTok does not operate in China, nor do we have any intention of doing so in the future,” it added.
The website TikTok.com is blocked in China and the app is not available on the Chinese app store. Users of mainland China-registered mobile numbers are not able to log in either.
Still, concerns about possible foreign influence on US elections through social media platforms have grown since US intelligence agencies found Russia conducted a cyber-influence campaign to help elect President Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Moscow has denied the claim.
Facebook this week revealed it had suspended a network of Instagram accounts operated from Russia that targeted US voters with divisive political messages ahead of next year’s presidential election.


Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

Updated 13 August 2020

Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ launch fund to support Lebanon’s news industry

  • The new program will support local media outlets

The Facebook Journalism Project, in collaboration with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), has announced that it will invest $300,000 in a program that aims to support the stabilization and recovery needs of journalists and news organizations in Lebanon affected by the Beirut explosion.

The new program called “Supporting Beirut: Response and Recovery Fund” will assist in supporting local media outlets that have suffered damage to infrastructure and resources.

ICFJ and Facebook will award $150,000 in emergency relief funds to Beirut-based news organizations and journalists directly impacted by the blast and in need of urgent financial support.

The first phase of this program will involve identifying Lebanese news organizations and journalists who require financial support. These journalists and news organizations will then be able to apply for immediate emergency relief grants. ICFJ will award grants to select Beirut-based news organizations and journalists who meet a set criteria.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Lebanon and everyone affected by this immeasurable tragedy,” said Mohamed Omar, news partnerships manager, Middle East and North Africa, at Facebook. “We’ve been getting regular updates from our contacts in Beirut; the damage to the city’s infrastructure, including its many newsrooms, is enormous. In spite of these devastating circumstances, the news industry is working hard, under extraordinary conditions, to keep people informed and updated,” he said.

“We applaud their efforts and are continuously working with our partners to both understand their needs and support them the best we can,” he added.

ICFJ, a non-profit organization focused on raising the quality of journalism worldwide, will mobilize its local networks to implement a two-phase response and recovery initiative for the Beirut crisis.

Sharon Moshavi, ICFJ’s senior vice president for new initiatives, said: “People turn to local journalists for critical information on how to keep their friends, families and communities safe. As the impact of the devastating explosion continues to unfold in Beirut, ICFJ is prepared to work with the Facebook Journalism Project to provide tailored support to Lebanese journalists and news organizations that are providing critical information to a nation in crisis.”

The Facebook Journalism Project and ICFJ will offer additional, deeper support to select Beirut-based news organizations during phase two, depending on the longer-term impacts of the crisis.

Earlier this week, Facebook announced that it would donate more than $2.1 million to local hospitals, medical institutions and NGOs to support relief and recovery efforts, $1 million of which has been matched by its community as part of a Facebook fundraiser.