By Sydney Monroe
It is safe to say the average TikTok addict does not consider the repercussions of his or her hours of monotonous scrolling or of learning the newest dance trend in their parent’s basement. As recently as August 2022, the percentage of U.S. based TikTok users by age consisted of 32.5% from ages 10-19, 29.5% from ages 20-29, 16.4% from ages 30-39, 13.9% from ages 40-49, and 7.1% over the age of 50. With users sweeping myriad generations, the result leads to an exponentiating threat to U.S. national security.
The national security concern centers on TikTok being a China-based service owned by ByteDance Ltd., an offshore entity that owns the entirety of the app. Not only is ByteDance a Chinese owned company, but it has been reported that the Chinese government has quietly taken a share as well as a board seat in the company. Brandon Carr, the commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, expressed in a letter to Apple and Google on June 24, 2022, that ByteDance is indebted to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the government’s surveillance demands.
User data that is collected is often taken without their explicit knowledge, including device brand and model, Operating System (OS) version, mobile carrier, browsing history, app and file names and types, keystroke patterns or rhythms, wireless connections, and geolocations. And this is only the tip of the iceberg when looking at the amount of data TikTok collects in aggregate. Due to these actions, TikTok regularly violates the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule of 1998, which states “developers of child-focused apps cannot lawfully obtain the PII of children under 13 years of age without first obtaining verifiable consent from parents”.
In response to this national security fear, Carr further called on the CEOs of Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores. Carr believes that the app “poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data”.
In recent months, nine Republican US senators, including Roy Blunt of Missouri and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, wrote a letter expressing concern that the company grants Chinese officials backdoor access to data on its users. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew responded by laying out details about how the company “is working with the Biden administration on an agreement that would fully safeguard user data and US national security interests”. And while the letter from Chew noted that Tik Tok employees do have access to user data subject to a series of cybersecurity controls and protocols overseen by the US-based security team, he claims that the company continues working toward deleting US users protected data from their own systems and fully pivot to Oracle cloud servers located in the US.
While it seems there has been incremental conveyances between the United States and the owners of ByteDance, and thus TikTok, both during the Trump and Biden administrations, the substance of these communications does not sound tangible. With the US expressing “concern” and the owners of ByteDance “trying” to comply with US cybersecurity regulations, no real steps to solve the national security concern have been taken by either entity.
 Brandon Doyle, TikTok Statistics – Updated Aug 2022, Wallaroo Media (August 2022), https://wallaroomedia.com/blog/social-media/tiktok-statistics/.
 Juro Osawa and Shai Oster, TikTok’s Owner ByteDance Quietly Changed its China Unit’s Name After U.S. Political Fears, The Information (August 2022), https://www.theinformation.com/articles/tiktoks-owner-bytedance-quietly-changed-its-china-units-name-after-u-s-political-fears.
 Jovi Umawing, TikTok is “Unacceptable Security Risk” and Should Be Removed from App Stores, Says FCC, Malwarebytes Labs (July 2022), https://www.malwarebytes.com/blog/news/2022/07/tiktok-is-unacceptable-security-risk-and-should-be-removed-from-app-stores-says-fcc.
 Why TikTok is the Latest Security Threat, Center for Internet Security (August 2022), https://www.cisecurity.org/insights/blog/why-tiktok-is-the-latest-security-threat.
 15 U.S.C. § 6502 (1998).
 Umawing, supra note 4.
 Marguerite Reardon, TikTok National Security Concerns Resurface: What You Need to Know, CNET (July 2022), https://www.cnet.com/news/tiktok-called-a-national-security-threat-heres-what-you-need-to-know/.