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Elon Musk Takes Major Swipe At TikTok

Elon Musk seemingly slammed TikTok late this week, asking if the Chinese-owned social media company was ruining the world.

The remark from Musk comes after he announced back in April his intention to purchase Twitter  for $54.20 per share in a deal valued at $44 billion.

“Is TikTok destroying civilization?” Musk tweeted. “Some people think so.”

He followed that up saying, “Or perhaps social media in general.”

Musk’s tweet comes as a new report from BuzzFeed News late this week alleged that China-based TikTok employees have been accessing sensitive U.S. user data despite the company previously indicating that the information would only be accessed from inside the U.S.

The fear that U.S. officials have is that U.S. user data could be accessed by ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok, because Chinese companies are subjected to the rule of the Chinese Communist Party.

“The risk is that the government could force ByteDance to collect and turn over information as a form of ‘data espionage,’” the report said. “There is, however, another concern: that the soft power of the Chinese government could impact how ByteDance executives direct their American counterparts to adjust the levers of TikTok’s powerful ‘For You’ algorithm, which recommends videos to its more than 1 billion users. Sen. Ted Cruz, for instance, has called TikTok ‘a Trojan horse the Chinese Communist Party can use to influence what Americans see, hear, and ultimately think.’”

One TikTok official reportedly said at an internal company meeting that “everything is seen in China,” while a top TikTok official said at a separate meeting that a China-based software engineer had “access to everything.”

BuzzFeed’s report said that the evidence that it reviewed showed that U.S. user data “was accessed far more frequently and recently than previously reported” and that the evidence “suggest[s] that the company may have misled lawmakers, its users, and the public by downplaying that data stored in the US could still be accessed by employees in China.”

A piece published in Forbes a couple of years ago highlighted numerous problems with the Chinese-owned company.

“The US armed forces have forbidden personnel from using it and describes it as a threat to cybersecurity. Israeli cybersecurity company Check Point has investigated it and concludes it has backdoors and major vulnerabilities, as well as overall security issues. The US government is also investigating it. Meanwhile, Reddit CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman describes it as a ‘fundamentally parasitic app that is always listening’ and warns against installing what he calls ‘spyware’. Several child advocacy groups say it poses a clear risk to children. Apple claims it has caught TikTok using clipboard capture mechanisms to spy on millions of users,” Forbes reported.

An op-ed published late last year by Matt Pottinger, who served in the Trump administration as the senior Asia adviser in the National Security Council and later as deputy national security adviser, and David Feith, who served as U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, warned of China’s attempts to dominate the global battle for data.

“Through a latticework of recent laws and regulations, [Chinese President Xi Jinping] has been hard at work making the Chinese Communist Party the world’s most powerful data broker,” they wrote, noting that Xi accomplishes this “By walling Chinese data off from the world, exerting new extraterritorial power over global data flows and putting foreign companies operating in China in a legal bind — all while absorbing other countries’ data by means licit and illicit.”

They highlighted a quote from Xi shortly after he became president of the country in 2013 that shows Xi’s desire to win the war for who has the upper hand in data.

“The vast ocean of data, just like oil resources during industrialization, contains immense productive power and opportunities,” Xi said. “Whoever controls big data technologies will control the resources for development and have the upper hand.”

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