Home Politics ‘Vacuum cleaner of personal data’: Researcher rebuts TikTok’s use of team’s work

‘Vacuum cleaner of personal data’: Researcher rebuts TikTok’s use of team’s work


Citizen Lab director Ron Deibert wants TikTok to stop characterizing his team’s research as exonerating the China-founded app from allegations that it snoops on Americans and cooperates with China’s communist government.

Mr. Deibert said TikTok was a “vacuum cleaner of personal data” similar to other social media platforms, in response to TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew citing the Toronto-based research group’s work in testimony to House lawmakers.

“Our analysis was explicit about having no visibility into what happened to user data once it was collected and transmitted back to TikTok’s servers,” Mr. Deibert said Wednesday night on Twitter.

“Although we had no way to determine whether or not it had happened, we even speculated about possible mechanisms through which the Chinese government might use unconventional techniques to obtain TikTok user data via pressure on ByteDance.”

TikTok has come under fire from policymakers for its data security practices amid concerns that the app may expose Americans’ data to the Chinese government. China’s policies of civil-military fusion force businesses to work with the government, and TikTok’s parent company ByteDance was founded in China.

Mr. Chew’s written remarks published by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, in advance of a hearing, point to Citizen Lab’s March 2021 report to bolster TikTok’s argument for distancing itself from China.

SEE ALSO: TikTok CEO defense of China-linked app doesn’t persuade lawmakers: ‘Your platform should be banned’

“A 2021 report from Citizen Lab, an internationally renowned security research laboratory, found that there was no overt data transmission by TikTok to the Chinese government and that TikTok did not contact any servers within China,” Mr. Chew’s written testimony said.

Leaked audio from more than 80 internal TikTok meetings showed engineers located in China had access to U.S. data between September 2021 and January 2022, according to recordings accessed by BuzzFeed last year.

ByteDance said last December it fired four employees who accessed data on journalists from BuzzFeed News and The Financial Times while attempting to track a leak of confidential information.

TikTok’s connections to China may not be limited to the technical realm.

Pressed at Thursday’s Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on whether the Chinese Communist Party advised the TikTok executive about his testimony to Congress, Mr. Chew avoided answering directly.

Rep. Michael Burgess, Texas Republican, asked whether the CCP had discussed the hearing with Mr. Chew or TikTok management, and the TikTok CEO would only say he did not have contact with Chinese government officials.

“What about the Chinese Communist Party itself, have any of those officials discussed this with you?” Mr. Burgess said.

“Like I said, I have not had any discussion with Chinese government officials, I don’t know the political affiliation of everybody I speak to,” Mr. Chew answered. “So I can’t verify the statement.”

• This article was based in part on wire-service reports.