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Cybersecurity expert says bipartisan concern over TikTok means change could be on the way

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet joined calls this week for limits on the Chinese-owned app.

COLORADO, USA — TikTok has now attracted attention – and anger – from politicians on both sides of the aisle. 

At a tech conference in Boulder on Sunday, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat who represents Colorado, repeated the concern he raised last week that TikTok's Chinese parent company poses a national security threat.

"Apple and Google should remove it from their app stores today and stop Beijing from hoovering up more data on 100 million Americans," Bennet said. 

Removal from the app stores would prevent users from downloading TikTok or any updates to the app. 

"It would, for all intents and purposes, kill the app," cybersecurity expert John Sileo said.

Sileo said the data TikTok collects is not any different from the information collected by Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – and could include a user's name, email address, phone number, location and usage information. 

"When you combine that all together, they know an awful lot of information on us based on our TikTok profile," Sileo said. 

But he said data spying concerns are legit. Because TikTok's parent company is based in China, it is subject to Chinese laws that could require it to turn over data on its users – including millions of Americans – to the Chinese government.

TikTok said it is moving to keep all American user data in the United States, and adding more protections to make sure the data stays here. 

"The security of the data our community entrusts us with is a top priority at TikTok, despite recent reports questioning that commitment," a TikTok official said in a statement posted when similar concerns were raised last year. 

Sileo said another legitimate concern is that the app could be manipulated to show users biased videos that could be geopolitically more favorable to China. For example, videos friendlier to China's position on Taiwan could be boosted on American users' phones. 

"Malicious forces are learning he we can use this technology in a 15-second video to influence millions and millions of people at a time rather than one on one," he said. 

Bennet's stance against TikTok bridges the political divide of Colorado politicians campaigning for limits on the app. Republican U.S. Rep. Ken Buck proposed legislation to ban TikTok nationwide, after a measure he co-sponsored to ban the app from federal government devices passed late last year. 

Sileo said the conversation over data exposure and privacy on apps like TikTok and others is overdue, and he expects the bipartisan nature of the concern over TikTok makes it more likely action will be taken. 

"The fact that it’s bled across political lines and we’ve got leaders on both sides talking about it is a great sign, because it means something will be done in that case," he said.


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