Why TikTok is asking about Chinese spying

Why TikTok is asking about Chinese spying

From the finger dance challenge to national security issues. The frivolity of TikTok’s short videos contrasts with the seriousness of the suspicions studied in high places on both sides of the Atlantic, against the mobile application of Chinese origin to 2 billion users. In the wake of the United States then of the European Commission, the list of countries officially suspicious of the social network and its video recommendation algorithm is growing week after week.

“We must not be naive: TikTok is a Chinese company that today is forced to cooperate with Chinese intelligence services. This is the reality”, pointed out the Belgian Prime Minister, Alexander De Croo, in a press release to justify his recent decision to ban the application on the smartphones of Belgian civil servants for six months. In the Senate as in the government, France is also looking into the question of the influence of the Chinese authorities on TikTok. China is already the number one concern of counterintelligence services.

Chinese national intelligence law

Without even talking about the grip of political power on the economic world in China or saying that the rule of law does not exist in the Middle Kingdom, the accusers of TikTok who link Chinese companies to the local secret services have not only to read what the regulations explicitly indicate to be convinced of this. According to China’s National Intelligence Law that came into force in June 2017 and other laws, any Chinese organization or Chinese citizen “must secretly support, assist and cooperate with state intelligence services”.

Certainly, TikTok denies being a Chinese company – the headquarters of its parent company ByteDance is in the Cayman Islands – and ensures that it would not respond favorably to such a request from Chinese services. But its technologies remain well and truly developed in China, by Chinese engineers.

Therefore, “Chinese intelligence services could request information on people in Europe or the United States and they could request assistance in setting up influence operations, censorship”, illustrates Charles Thibout, associate researcher at IRIS. Ex-employees and NGOs are even more assertive, particularly with regard to monitoring the Uyghur diaspora. However, TikTok, like other global social networks, collects sensitive personal data and is an ideal vector of propaganda for those who control it.

TikTok wants to show its credentials

European spokespersons for TikTok are happy to say that the application accumulates much less personal data than its rivals. For example, the system would only register the location of users at the level of a region and not of a city. But this parameter did not prevent ByteDance employees from accessing from China the much more precise IP addresses associated with the TikTok accounts of Anglo-Saxon journalists (from BuzzFeed, the “Financial Times”, the “New York Times ”) in order to identify their internal sources. The employees were laid off.

On the question of recommendation algorithms, TikTok also seeks to show its credentials. The updates of the application and therefore of the algorithm are audited by its American partner Oracle before being online. But the experts agree that the work of analysis is complex and that it will be difficult to detect the intention to silence or to put forward such or such subject in a context of informational conflict. Similarly, no proven acts of espionage via TikTok have been officially updated. But in this area, a lot of information remains classified.

VIDEO. TikTok in the sights of the White House

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