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28 Nov 2022

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How the White House cybersecurity team views China's TikTok threat

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies are deeply concerned about China's social media platform, TikTok, and its potential to be a source of disinformation and malicious content in the United States.

When FBI Director Chris Wray told lawmakers this week about his concern for national security on TikTok, a White House staffer at the Office of the National Cyber Director also raised some concerns and advocated raising security. This was only part of what he did, though, as he stopped short of backing a ban on TikTok.

Kemba Walden, Principal Deputy National Cyber Director at the CNBC Technology Executive Council Summit on Tuesday, said the Biden White House has not ruled out a TikTok ban. Her view of a complex national security issue with the nation's top technology rival was as follows:

"We want to focus on getting in front of the adversary. We don't want to take a reactionary posture in developing policy. We don't want transgressors to set our agenda. ... We are much more focused on strategic outlook. What is our agenda? Let the transgressors chase us. ... If we are reactionary, we remain reactionary. And there is a place for that ..., but if we remain in that space, we're just losing more slowly."

As national defense is the White House's top priority, she said, the White House is looking at strategic investments to make domestic systems more resilient and counter information operations, but TikTok has a responsibility.

"All of these platforms, including TikTok, must keep security in mind," she said. "Every stakeholder has a role in this space, including the users of TikTok, the developers … all platforms have that responsibility to be able to have a net that delivers on what we expect, and so I support any measure that will raise security so that our communities can thrive safely."

In a hearing about worldwide threats on Tuesday, Wray told House Homeland Security Committee members that he is "extremely concerned" about TikTok's American operations.

"They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users. Or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used to influence operations if they so chose. Or to control software on millions of devices, which allows it to compromise personal devices potentially technically," Wray said.

In addition to being a White House official, Walden is also a parent.

"Concerning TikTok, the following may be interesting because my children have spent a substantial portion of their time using this service and because it's so captivating, but there are valid concerns to be considered regarding the motivation of China to transfer this information stream to millions of Americans, and all the associated tracking."

"Considering safety is always an issue, but considering the enormous influence China is practicing in the U.S. via TikTok, even while thinking in totally different directions, what should you make of China's point of view when it is at odds with ours?" she added.

There has been increased anxiety among federal government officials and congress members over TikTok's ability to protect users' data from the Chinese government. Last month, Federal Communications Commissioner Kathleen McLaughlin expressed her hope that the government should ban the use of the app.

ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, has maintained that it does not store U.S. user data in China, where the law could apply, due to an enacted law that forces large tech companies to reveal their algorithms. Read the full story on Consumer News and Business Channel.

Also Read: A Lawsuit Has Been Filed Against OpenAI and Microsoft over GitHub Copilot

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