TikTok continues to work to reassure western governments that it’s not beholden to the CCP, with the company close to establishing a new agreement with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) which would offer assurances to US officials as to how, exactly, US user data is stored and accessed, and would also include restrictions on potential interference by Chinese staff.
As reported by The New York Times:
“The Biden administration and TikTok have drafted a preliminary agreement to resolve national security concerns posed by the Chinese-owned video app […] The two sides have hammered out the foundations of a deal in which TikTok would make changes to its data security and governance without requiring its owner, the Chinese internet giant ByteDance, to sell it, said three of the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations are confidential.”
Under the agreement, TikTok would store its US user data solely in the United States, which it’s already working towards in a deal with Oracle, while Oracle officials would also be given oversight of TikTok’s algorithms and moderation systems. TikTok would also create a new board of security experts, reporting to the US government, enabling more direct monitoring of its data safety processes.
The deal is not finalized as yet, and would likely need sign-off from President Joe Biden before going into effect. According to the Times, Treasury and Justice Department officials are still working through the details, with many still skeptical that it’ll actually make it through to the next stage.
But it seems that TikTok will have to find a way to get the deal done, or it risks losing its entire US business, which would also likely see other western nations follow suit in banning the app, if the US felt that it remained a significant enough security threat.
At this stage, it seems unlikely that we could see a platform used by a billion people shut down entirely - but then again, as global tensions continue to simmer, and China continues to exert its authority over regions like Taiwan and Hong Kong, there are concerns that TikTok could be caught in the middle, and be used as either a surveillance device, or a propaganda tool in an any escalation on this front.
Or even, something else. One conspiracy theory circulating online is that TikTok is actually being utilized by the CCP to stoke discord and dissent among the western youth, by promoting dangerous, harmful trends and content, effectively linking those behaviors to the dopamine hit of social media Likes and comments.
Whatever it may or may not be, concerns around the app, and its ownership, continue to linger.
And really, inevitably, TikTok’s future will be intertwined with the decisions of the CCP. If tensions escalate, TikTok will become more of a focus – which is why this new deal is key to the longevity of the app, and reassuring western governments that the platform is separate from political interference.
If that’s even possible while the platform remains in Chinese ownership. But that’s why the requirements here are so steep, and while it may seem extreme to allow security experts to monitor TikTok’s operations, given the aforementioned concerns, it does make some sense.
Again, it seems unlikely that TikTok could be cut off entirely, but India did it as a result of ongoing border battles with Chinese forces.
If international tensions escalate, that could happen again, but on a much broader scale.