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.


Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

Updated 20 January 2020

Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

  • Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used
  • Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology

LONDON: Google’s chief executive called Monday for a balanced approach to regulating artificial intelligence, telling a European audience that the technology brings benefits but also “negative consequences.”

Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used.

“There is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. The question is how best to approach this,” Pichai said, according to a transcript of his speech at a Brussel-based think tank.

He noted that there’s an important role for governments to play and that as the European Union and the US start drawing up their own approaches to regulation, “international alignment” of any eventual rules will be critical. He did not provide specific proposals.

Pichai spoke on the same day he was scheduled to meet the EU’s powerful competition regulator, Margrethe Vestager.

Vestager has in previous years hit the Silicon Valley giant with multibillion-dollar fines for allegedly abusing its market dominance to choke off competition. After being reappointed for a second term last autumn with expanded powers over digital technology policies, Vestager has now set her sights on artificial intelligence, and is drawing up rules on its ethical use.

Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology. Vestager and the EU have been the among the more aggressive regulators of big tech firms, an approach US authorities have picked up with investigations into the dominance of companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

“Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities,” he said, adding that it could incorporate existing standards like Europe’s tough General Data Protection Regulation rather than starting from scratch.

While it promises big benefits, he raised concerns about potential downsides of artificial intelligence, citing as one example its role in facial recognition technology, which can be used to find missing people but also for “nefarious reasons” which he didn’t specify.

In 2018, Google pledged not to use AI in applications related to weapons, surveillance that violates international norms, or that works in ways that go against human rights.