FTC Probes TikTok Over Data and Security Practices Amid Legal Tangles

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In the bustling heart of the Big Apple, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has reportedly dug into the data and security practices of TikTok, the vibrant social media colossus that’s found itself embroiled in a host of political and legislative tangles. Those familiar with the developing situation have hinted that these investigations could culminate in either a potential settlement or a full-blown lawsuit.

TikTok, while captivating to its vast user base, has been standing on uncertain ground in the nation’s capital. Amidst its latest dance with the FTC, the social media gargantuan is also attempting to fend off a menacing federal bill. This hammer of legislation threatens to expel the platform from the United States unless it severs its umbilical cord with its Beijing-based parent company, ByteDance.

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Federal scrutiny has largely focused on the possibility of TikTok flouting a segment of federal law, which outlaws “unfair and deceptive” business practices. More specifically, TikTok stands accused of denying that individuals in China had access to the personal data of its U.S. users. This revelation came from inside sources who, because of the sensitive nature of their roles, were not authorized to speak on the matter.

Furthermore, the FTC has shifted its magnifying lens onto any potential violations of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act that TikTok may have committed. This law stipulates that apps and websites oriented towards children are obligated to secure parental consent prior to collecting personal data from children under 13 years of age.

In response to this developing controversy, both FTC spokesperson Nicole Drayton and representatives from TikTok chose to withhold comment. These ongoing investigations were initially brought to the public’s attention by Politico.

The FTC, methodically comprehending the nuances of the investigation, may soon reach its conclusion and pursue a settlement with TikTok within the upcoming weeks. However, insiders have emphasized that an agreement doesn’t seem to be tied to a stringent deadline.

Should the FTC opt for the route of a lawsuit instead, the Justice Department would be required to respond. The department would have 45 days to contemplate filing a case on behalf of the FTC, making modifications, or returning it to the FTC to pursue independently.

These brewing controversies harken back to nearly two years ago when Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner and Marco Rubio, the most prominent Republican on the committee, implored FTC chair Lina Khan to scrutinize TikTok. Their concerns were galvanized by a report from Buzzfeed News indicating that ByteDance employees in China had habitually accessed data on U.S. TikTok users.

In the final months of 2022, ByteDance publicly terminated four employees implicated in accessing data on journalists from Buzzfeed News and The Financial Times. The information was allegedly utilized to hunt down sources leaking confidential information about the company.

Still, amidst the swirl of investigations and potential legal actions, a piece of legislature looms that could dictate TikTok’s position in the United States. Despite sailing through the House, the bill has encountered resistance within the confines of the Senate, where senators seem divided on the best strategy to manage lingering reservations about the social media platform.

Questions linger, particularly from lawmakers and intelligence officials who worry about potential exploitation of the platform by the Chinese government, who could access U.S. user data or manipulate Americans via the pervasive TikTok algorithm. However, to date, no concrete public evidence from the U.S. government has substantiated these concerns.