Social media video-platform, TikTok is a "potential threat vector" to the United States, as the Chinese government could direct misinformation through it said John F. Plumb, assistant secretary of defense for space policy and principal cyber advisor to the secretary of defense.
TikTok is a social media, video-hosting service owned by the Chinese company ByteDance.
Members of the House Armed Services Committee's subcommittee on cyber, information technologies and innovation heard testimony from Plumb and Army Gen. Paul M. Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command, director of the National Security Agency and chief of the Central Security Service on Thursday, April 6.
"The problem with TikTok is that a large number of Americans use it, and China may have the ability to direct misinformation through it, as well as collect data from it," said Plumb. "The scale and scope of the platform is problematic."
Policy makers need to be aware of these threats, be able to quantify them, and be able to take action against them, he said.
Nakasone said, "If you consider one-third of the adult population receives their news from this app, one-sixth of our children are saying they're constantly on this app, if you consider that there's 150 million people every single day that are obviously touching this app, this provides a foreign nation a platform for information operations, a platform for surveillance, and a concern we have with regards to who controls that data."
The U.S. DoD has already prohibited the use of TikTok on government phones, the general noted.
"I think the broader discussion obviously rests with the policymakers now. Certainly, this is a piece that our nation has to consider," he said.
There needs to be a policy in place that balances the ability to share information with protection from adversaries' ability to conduct surveillance and information operations against the United States, Nakasone said.
The general said there's a difference between TikTok and American-based social media platforms. China has already said they're going to "touch the data at any time they want to touch this data. This concerns me," Nakasone said.
Chinese company, ByteDance launched TikTok on the global market in 2018 . In September 2021, the platform announced it had reached a billion active monthly users — a milestone that it took Facebook over eight years to reach.
The U.S. has been inimical to Chinese companies that have achieved great global success. A few years ago it prevented Chinese firm, Huawei from participating in 5G mobile network contracts and more recently it blocked the DoD from using drones made by DJI, another Chinese firm.