- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 30, 2020

Senators raised concerns Thursday about Zoom and TikTok, requesting the Justice Department probe each of the popular online services and their connections to China.

In a letter to Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers, lawmakers asked the Justice Department to examine each of the tech company’s ties to China and to brief Congress on the subject as soon as possible.

“Based on numerous reports, we are extremely concerned that Zoom and TikTok have disclosed private information about Americans to the PRC and engaged in censorship on behalf of the Chinese government,” wrote Sens. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, and Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat.

Zoom, a video teleconference platform launched in 2011, and TikTok, a social network started in 2016, have each exploded in popularity in the months since the worldwide novel coronavirus pandemic erupted.

In their letter, the senators accused each company of concealing their true relationship with the Chinese government and warned they could be putting at risk the personal data of millions of American users.

“Despite repeated promises of transparency and multiple inquiries from Congress, both Zoom and TikTok have failed to answer even basic questions about their business operations, including who has access to personal information and when they comply with request[s] from China or other governments,” they wrote. “We believe that it is imperative that the Department of Justice investigate and determine whether Zoom and TikTok’s business relationships, data handling practices and operational connections to China pose a risk to Americans.”

In addition to asking the Justice Department to conduct an investigation, the senators requested its partners in the intelligence community brief members of Congress on the issue as soon as possible.

Zoom is an American company, founded and headquartered in California, incorporated in Delaware and publicly traded on NASDAQ,” a Zoom spokesperson told The Washington Times. “We take user privacy, security and trust extremely seriously, and as always, we welcome conversations with officials about our global business practices and policies.”

A spokesperson for TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based internet company, denied taking cues from China when reached for comment.

“Our content and moderation policies are led by our U.S.-based team in California and aren’t influenced by any foreign government, and we publish information about how our recommendation system works,” a TikTok spokesperson told The Times. “We’ve never shared TikTok user data with the Chinese government, and would not do so if asked. Period.”

Mr. Hawley, a vocal critic of TikTok, introduced a bill in March that would prohibit all U.S. government employees from downloading or using the app on any government devices, citing security concerns.

TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that includes Chinese Communist Party members on its board, and it is required by law to share user data with Beijing,” he said at the time. “The company even admitted it collects user data while their app is running in the background — including the messages people send, pictures they share, their keystrokes and location data, you name it. As many of our federal agencies have already recognized, TikTok is a major security risk to the United States, and it has no place on government devices.”

Indeed, the U.S. Department of Defense previously banned troops from using TikTok, and the Department of State and Homeland Security prohibits employees from installing the app on government devices as well.

The Justice Department did not immediately return a message requesting comment.

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