Pressure mounts for regulators to investigate TikTok over potential ‘Big Brother-type surveillance’ after reports of plans to track Americans’ locations

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  • Forbes reported TikTok’s guardian agency, ByteDance, deliberate to use the app to surveil Americans.
  • Public Citizen on Thursday urged lawmakers and the FTC to investigate TikTok and ByteDance.
  • The consumer rights group joins a rising chorus of bipartisan calls to investigate the Beijing-based agency.

Public Citizen in a letter on Thursday urged lawmakers and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the TikTok app and its guardian agency, ByteDance, changing into a member of a rising amount of bipartisan calls to investigate reports that the Beijing-based agency deliberate to use the video-based social media app to surveil explicit Americans.

After reviewing inside provides, Forbes reported ultimate week that ByteDance’s Internal Audit workforce was planning to use location information gathered from US users of the TikTok app for surveillance of two American residents who weren’t employees of the app. While accessing shopper location data is allowed for capabilities like concentrating on adverts or stopping fraudlent train, the company’s surveillance plans weren’t related to these user-approved capabilities, in accordance to the outlet. 

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Representatives for ByteDance and TikTok did not immediately reply to Insider’s requests for comment regarding the Public Citizen letter, nevertheless in a press launch beforehand provided to Insider’s Travis Clark a TikTok spokesperson denied the app has been used to “target” members of the US government, activists, public figures or journalists and talked about it “does not collect precise GPS location information from US users.”

In its Thursday letter, the nonprofit consumer rights group Public Citizen urged the FTC to investigate and “take immediate action against ByteDance and Tiktok” if the reports of surveillance are substantiated.

“This threatens a Big Brother-type surveillance that is antithetical to democratic values, may threaten individuals’ personal security and violates the most basic societal expectations about personal privacy,” the letter written by Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, study. “That there are a few disturbing precedents for platforms tracking individuals exacerbates rather than diminishes the concern about the Forbes report… Such a practice could put our privacy, physical safety, and national security at risk.”

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Lawmakers and privacy advocates alike expressed comparable concern following the Forbes report. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee who has previously been critical of TikTok’s ties to China, tweeted it was “not surprising” the company deliberate to surveil US clients and advocated for a nationwide privateness laws. Alan Butler, authorities director and president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), echoed the problems about shopper privateness and referred to as for stronger location data protections.

Earlier this summer season, Sens. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, referred to as for a separate FTC investigation after BuzzFeed News reported that delicate data from US clients was repeatedly accessed by ByteDance workers in China, regardless of the company’s assurances that US shopper data was saved inside the states and was inaccessible abroad. 

“We write in response to public reports that individuals in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been accessing data on U.S. users, in contravention of several public representations, including sworn testimony in October 2021,” the senators wrote in a letter addressed to FTC Chair Lina Khan. “In light of this new report, we ask that your agency immediately initiate a Section 5 investigation on the basis of apparent deception by TikTok, and coordinate this work with any national security or counter-intelligence investigation that may be initiated by the U.S. Department of Justice.”

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The app’s hyperlinks to the Chinese authorities have prolonged spurred points over propaganda, fake info, and data privateness — with the Trump administration in 2020 even proposing a total ban of TikTok. In 2021, the Biden administration promised a security review of foreign-owned apps, nevertheless has however to publish its outcomes. 

“It is critical that you act with urgency to uncover the full extent of individually targeted surveillance practices, if any, and hold these companies accountable for any misconduct,” Public Citizen’s letter study.

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