What TikTok Withholds Is As Concerning As What It Posts, Says NSA Director

TikTok withholds info
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TikTok withholds info
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Photo Credit: Nathan Mitchell / US Army Cyber Command

US Army General Paul Nakasone, commander of the US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, warns that what TikTok doesn’t show you is just as concerning as what it does.

According to the leader of both the US Cyber Command and the National Security Agency, what TikTok doesn’t tell you in its digital feed is at least as concerning as how its content can influence opinion. 

General Paul Nakasone told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 7 that while the organizations he oversees are concerned about the wildly-popular Chinese-owned app’s data collection, its tightly-controlled algorithms, and its international reach, what TikTok withholds can be just as worrying.

“TikTok concerns me for a number of different reasons,” says Nakasone, whose teams are tasked with protecting US defense networks and keeping abreast of changes in cryptographic standards and intelligence. “It’s not only the fact that you can influence something, but you can also turn off the message, as well, when you have such a large population of listeners.”

The short-form video app currently has more than 100 million users in the US alone. The Pew Research Center found in October that about one-quarter of US adults under 30 regularly get news from TikTok — but users are “far less likely” to seek out their news there, unlike users of Twitter or Facebook.

“This is a means upon which, you know, you receive information or don’t receive information,” adds Nakasone. “I always look at that in terms of being able to measure that risk.”

While other apps and websites harvest and sell user information, US government officials single out TikTok due to its ties to the Chinese government. TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, an internet technology giant with R&D centers worldwide, has previously said it does not share information with the Chinese government. But because it is a Chinese company, ByteDance must adhere to requests from China’s government for its data.

US defense officials consider China a top national security threat. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee this month, expected to be interrogated over “consumer privacy and data security practices, the platforms’ impact on kids, and their relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.”