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TikTok can keep operating in US under deal being worked out with Biden

TikTok can keep operating in US under deal being worked out with Biden

Millions of Americans share data daily on the video-streaming app TikTok—data the federal government considers a national security risk because the app is owned by China, a foreign adversary. Now it has been left up to President Joe Biden to figure out a way to minimize the national security risks without forcing the sale of TikTok or taking away one of America’s favorite apps, as former President Donald Trump tried and failed to do in 2020.

Today, The New York Times reported that Biden may be close to arriving at a potential solution to the TikTok problem. “Four people with knowledge of the discussions” told NYT that over the past few months, the Biden administration has drafted a preliminary agreement with TikTok “to resolve national security concerns.”

Because the negotiation is confidential, all sources requested anonymity, and not much is yet known about the terms. However, there are three main areas of change in the current draft. The first focuses on preventing China-based employees from accessing American data by storing all TikTok data solely on US servers. The second is designed to block Chinese propaganda or disinformation campaigns by granting US-based Oracle power to monitor what’s recommended by algorithms. The last provides some oversight by forming a TikTok board of security experts that oversees TikTok’s US operations and reports directly to the US government. (Oracle declined to comment to NYT and did not immediately respond to Ars.)

Three sources confirmed that the compromise means TikTok has agreed to change how it collects data and who has control over data. However, under the agreement, current TikTok owner ByteDance would retain ownership.

NYT reported that negotiations have not been easy, and high-ranking officials from the Justice Department and the Treasury Department have criticized the current draft as not tough enough on China or doing enough to fully resolve national security risks.

With some of the seemingly key terms of the agreement not yet ironed out, sources told NYT that, ahead of the midterm elections, the ensuing back and forth between the Biden administration and TikTok could “drag out a final resolution for months.”

Every day the resolution is delayed, TikTok continues gulping data, with the most sensitive data points, Trump claimed, “potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.” NYT reported that the Biden administration’s stance on China “is not substantially different” from Trump’s.

TikTok stirred up controversy when a Buzzfeed News report showed in June that China-based employees had access to US user data that should have been restricted. Buzzfeed’s coverage triggered more public scrutiny on how Biden was approaching the TikTok problem. Back in June, a TikTok spokesperson told Buzzfeed, “We know we’re among the most scrutinized platforms from a security standpoint, and we aim to remove any doubt about the security of US user data. That’s why we hire experts in their fields, continually work to validate our security standards, and bring in reputable, independent third parties to test our defenses.”

Now, TikTok has said that it expects an agreement will be reached with the US—at least as long as Biden’s terms are deemed “reasonable.”

“We will not comment on the specifics of confidential discussions with the US government, but we are confident that we are on a path to fully satisfy all reasonable US national security concerns,” a TikTok spokesperson told Ars.

Any agreement reached, NYT reported, would need to be approved by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States and possibly Biden. Neither the White House nor the Justice Department provided comments for the NYT report.

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