FTC investigating TikTok over privacy and security

The Federal Trade Commission is investigating TikTok for its data and security practices, two sources told CNN on the condition of anonymity.

The probe is yet another complication for the social media platform, which is already facing the threat of a potential US ban or a forced divestment from its Chinese parent company.

The sources said that the FTC is probing TikTok over an alleged violation of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection rule, which requires companies to notify parents and obtain consent before collecting data from children under 13.

The agency is also investigating whether TikTok violated a portion of the FTC Act that prohibits “unfair or deceptive” business practices, the sources said, in denying that TikTok user data could be accessed by individuals in China.

The FTC could bring a suit against TikTok or settle with the company in the coming weeks, according to one of the sources. Politico reported news of the probe earlier.

When asked about the investigation, FTC Director of Public Affairs Douglas Farrar replied: “No comment.”

TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The FTC probe comes as TikTok faces an existential threat in the US. Earlier this month, a bipartisan group in the US House of Representatives voted to pass a law forcing TikTok to be sold by ByteDance or face a ban from US app stores. The bill is now before the Senate, and President Joe Biden has said he would sign it if it gets to his desk. Senate leaders, however, have indicated they are taking a deliberate approach — which could lead to delays or even potentially doom the House bill.

The short-form video company, owned by Chinese firm ByteDance, has denied assertions that its app poses a national security threat to US citizens. TikTok, which does not operate in China, has said that the Chinese government has never accessed US user data.

Cybersecurity experts say Chinese laws require ByteDance to cooperate with that country’s intelligence demands — a fact that, given ByteDance’s ownership of TikTok, could hypothetically put US user data at risk. To address that issue, TikTok has taken steps to store its US user data on cloud servers controlled by US tech giant Oracle and established internal protocols limiting access by non-US employees.

TikTok acknowledged to Congress in 2022 that employees based in China could access US user data, following a report that year by BuzzFeed News that ByteDance employees had accessed that information on multiple occasions. TikTok CEO Shou Chew, in his first appearance before Congress last year, also acknowledged that several ByteDance employees were fired for spying on certain US journalists as part of a “misguided attempt” to hunt down leakers within the company. (CNN)

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