Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the ranking member of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee sent a letter to video-sharing social media app TikTok over privacy concerns and the app’s alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The Representatives asked 22 questions about these concerns, including possible Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) violations, the use of information collected from American users, corporate administration, and issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The letter cited TikTok’s legal history and news stories to bolster their concerns. TikTok was sued for biometrics violations, breaching its previous agreement with the FTC where it paid a $5.7 million settlement, COPPA violations, and it is banned by the Army, Navy and TSA. It has also been accused of sending user data to China. These issues have been brought to light during the pandemic as Americans increasingly use the app; the app currently has over 2 billion downloads worldwide.
“We are living through an unprecedented time due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis,” Reps. Walden and McMorris Rodgers wrote. “Congress has significant concerns over TikTok’s data practices, including whether TikTok continues to violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) and whether TikTok shares American user’s information with the Chinese Communist Party.”
The letter also cited parent company ByteDance’s “rumored close ties to the Chinese Communist Party,” raising “serious concerns about whether information collected by TikTok on American users is being shared with the Chinese government.” For example, “reports suggest that ByteDance…coordinates with the Chinese government to facilitate human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and to spread the communist party’s propoganda. Further, TikTok has been accused of pressuring U.S.-based employees to censor videos that the Chinese government finds objectionably and culturally problematic.” The Representatives add that “TikTok reportedly censors political content and videos critical of the communist party.”
The letter also directly asked COPPA compliance questions. The letter asked for the company to “Please explain how TikTok ensures a parent of a user under age 13 receives direct notice of TikTok’s data practices, including how information on the user is collected, why such information is collected, and if such information is shared or otherwise disclosed with third parties.” Other questions concerned the app’s retention policy and the version of the app for younger users “TikTok for Younger Users.”
The letter also requested information related to TikTok’s data practices. For example, the Representatives stated, “Please explain why TikTok collects the specific categories of information it collects on Americans and for what purposes such information is collected.” Other data related questions ask who this information is shared with, how it is collected, how and where this information is stored.