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.


India shuts down Internet in hotspot after deadly protests

Updated 13 December 2019

India shuts down Internet in hotspot after deadly protests

  • Protests erupted this week after the government introduced new legislation that many in the far-flung northeast believe will give citizenship to immigrants
  • On Friday morning thousands gathered in central Guwahati as riot police looked on

GUWAHATI: Internet access was cut in India’s northeastern city of Guwahati on Friday as thousands gathered for fresh protests against a new citizenship law, a day after police shot dead two demonstrators.
Protests erupted this week after the government introduced new legislation that many in the far-flung northeast believe will give citizenship to immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, and which other critics say is anti-Muslim.
On Friday morning thousands gathered in central Guwahati as riot police looked on, with residents hurrying out to buy essentials.
No fresh violence was reported but Guwahati and other areas remained littered from the detritus of recent days, with some roads blocked by fallen trees, concrete poles, stones and iron railings. Many cash machines have run out of cash and most petrol stations were also shut.
A local government official said that Internet access in the Guwahati, the main city of Assam state, had been cut and an AFP reporter confirmed that connections appeared to have been suspended.
The Meghalaya state government has also cut off mobile Internet, with parts of the capital Shillong brought under curfew since Thursday evening.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was planning to scrap a visit to the city due to begin on Sunday as the security situation deteriorated, media reported Friday. The Japanese leader had been slated to hold talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Thursday, police had fired live and blank rounds as thousands of demonstrators in Guwahati and elsewhere took to the streets, some vandalising property and torching vehicles.
The two demonstrators killed in the city were among around 20 people being treated in hospital, “a few” of whom had gunshot wounds, said Ramen Talukdar, a doctor at a Guwahati hospital.
Hundreds of passengers stuck at Guwahati airport were brought to the city on government buses with police escort in the early hours of Friday morning.
Several thousand troops have been drafted in to help police, who fired tear gas and charged demonstrators with batons, in recent days.
Security was increased at the Bangladeshi consulate in Guwahati after a vehicle in the consul’s convoy was attacked Wednesday by mobs, the foreign ministry in Dhaka said.
“They cant settle anyone in our motherland. This is unacceptable. We will die but not allow outsiders to settle here,” Manav Das, a protester told AFP on Friday.
“We will defeat the government with the force of the people and the government will be forced to revoke the law,” said local activist Samujal Battacharya.
The Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), signed into law by the Indian president late Thursday, allows for the fast-tracking of applications from religious minorities from three neighboring countries, but not Muslims.
For Islamic groups, the opposition and rights groups, it is part of Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda to marginalize India’s 200 million Muslims. He denies this.
The US State Department on Thursday urged India to “protect the rights of its religious minorities,” according to Bloomberg.
But many in India’s northeast object for different reasons, fearing that immigrants from Bangladesh — many of them Hindus — will become citizens, taking jobs and weakening the local culture.
The chief ministers of the states of Punjab in the north and Kerala in the south also said that they would not implement the law, the Hindu daily reported.
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