Trust and Safety at TikTok? More Questions Than Answers Now

May 6th, 2023 3:18 PM

If you thought TikTok had trust and safety issues before, then look out.

National security experts have been warning about the dangers of the communist Chinese government-tied app, and now the head of trust and safety for TikTok US Data Security (USDS) is leaving the company according to an internal memo. The Verge reported that Eric Han, who started the role in December, is leaving the division of the company that was created to convince the United States that the app is safe from data theft by the Chinese Communist Party. The United States has yet to approve the app’s program.

Cybersecurity experts have warned that TikTok poses a serious threat to Americans’ data and national security. One, in particular, says there is nothing the platform can say to change his mind.

Fox News China expert Gordon Chang told MRC Free Speech America that TikTok is untrustworthy and that no one at the company can guarantee that user data is not being used by the Communist Chinese government.

“TikTok has given so many assurances in the past that it wouldn’t surveil users and it’s violated all of those assurances so they’re entitled to absolutely no credibility,” he said. Chang added, "there’s nothing that [Chew] could say that would provide an assurance.” 

Interim USDS general manager Andy Bonillo wrote in an internal memo sent out by the company that he will be “stepping in to lead USDS T&S on an interim basis” until “we identify Eric’s replacement for the longer term.” 

“Over the past four years, Eric helped safeguard our U.S. community through an incredible stage of growth,” Bonillo added. “We remain dedicated to upholding our commitments to the TikTok community - both in the U.S. and around the world - as we continue to invest in trust and safety as a cornerstone of those efforts.”

TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan told The Verge that Han’s role focused on the “compliance, safety strategies, and moderation for content involving US users’ private data.” 

Shanahan claimed that the division would help TikTok create “global safety policies,” which is presumably a euphemism for more censorship.

“Outside USDS, TikTok’s global Trust and Safety team oversees the platform’s safety policies, processes, and systems for our global community, including the US,” Shanahan continued. “TikTok’s Head of Trust and Safety is based in Dublin with leaders across the US, Ireland, and Singapore. Our global Trust and Safety team develops global safety policies for the platform and oversees moderation of content that does not involve US users’ private data.”

Censorship and a potential ban in the United States are not the only issues the video streaming app has.

MRC Free Speech America reported last month that a  British data protection agency ordered TikTok to pay £12.7 million — or $15.9 million —  in fines after ruling the app failed to prevent children under the age of 13 from using the app.

One U.S. lawmaker said the fine is more proof that the app should be banned.

“Very disturbing,” Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) tweeted in reaction to the news. “It’s time to ban TikTok here in the United States.”

Democrats are also calling for a change. Senate Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) recently stated his concerns about TikTok on the Sunday edition of CBS’s Face the Nation. “At the end of the day, TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, ByteDance, and by Chinese law, that company has to be willing to turn over data to the Communist Party or, one of my bigger fears, we have 150 million Americans on TikTok, average of about 90 minutes a day, and how that channel could be used for propaganda purposes or disinformation by the Communist Party,” Warner said.

A study from MRC Free Speech America’s Censortrack database revealed last year that TikTok banned 11 pro-free speech organizations and/or their members:

None of the aforementioned “permanently banned” accounts received an explanation as to why they were banned. 

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