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Ted Cruz Nails TikTok Over Sharing User Data With Communist China

Senator Ted Cruz, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, yesterday participated in a Communications Subcommittee hearing on the negative effects of TikTok, Snapchat, and YouTube on children.

During the hearing, Sen. Cruz asked Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s head of public policy for the Americas, numerous times about whether TikTok considers one of their sister companies, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-affiliated Beijing ByteDance Technology Co., an affiliate of TikTok’s corporate group. TikTok uses this label in their privacy policy, which would allow TikTok to “share all of the information [TikTok] collect[s]” on and from Americans with that sister company. Mr. Beckerman refused to answer the question conclusively. Read excerpts of Sen. Cruz’s line of questioning below.


WATCH: Sen. Cruz to TikTok Official: ‘You Have Dodged the Questions More Than Any Witness I Have Seen’


In his line of questioning, Sen. Cruz asked:


“I understand this is the first time that TikTok is testifying before Congress. And I appreciate you making the company available to finally answer some questions. In your testimony, you talked about all the things you say TikTok is doing to protect kids online, and that’s great. But I want to discuss the broader issue here, which is the control the Chinese Communist Party has over TikTok. Its parent company, ByteDance, and its sister companies like Beijing ByteDance technology. Now TikTok has stated repeatedly that it doesn’t share the data it collects from Americans with the Chinese Communist Party, and that it wouldn’t do so if asked. It has also stated that with regards to data collected on and from Americans, that data is stored in Virginia with a backup in Singapore. But these denials may, in fact, be misleading. A quick look at TikTok’s privacy policy, in fact, just last night, shows there’s a lot more than meets the eyes. For example, in the ‘How we share your information’ section, one blurb reads, ‘We may share all of the information we collect with a parent-subsidiary or other affiliate of our corporate group.’ Interestingly, in June of this year, the privacy policy was updated to state that TikTok, ‘may collect biometric identifiers and biometric information as defined under U.S. laws, such as face prints and voiceprints.’ Mr. Beckerman, does TikTok consider ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, which is headquartered in Beijing, to be a part of TikTok’s ‘corporate group,’ as that term is used in your privacy policy?”

Mr. Beckerman answered:

“Thank you, Senator. This is an important question. I just like to take an opportunity first to clear up misconceptions around some of the accusations that have been leveled against the company. I would like to point to independent research. I understand the trust needs to be earned.”


Sen. Cruz responded:

“Mr. Beckerman, I get you may have broader points you want to make. My question is simple and straightforward: does TikTok consider ByteDance, the parent company headquartered in Beijing, to be part of TikTok’s corporate group? That’s a yes or no.”


Mr. Beckerman answered:


“Senator, access controls for our data is done by our U.S. teams, and as independent researchers, independent experts have pointed out, the data that TikTok has on the app is not of a national security importance and is of low sensitivity. But again, we do hold that to a high standard, and we have access controls.”


Sen. Cruz continued:

“Okay, Mr. Beckerman, we’re going to try a third time because the words that came out of your mouth have no relation to the question you were asked. Your privacy policy says you will share information with your corporate group. I’m asking a very simple question. Is ByteDance, your parent company headquartered in Beijing, part of your corporate group? Yes or no as you use the term in your privacy policy?”


Mr. Beckerman answered:


“Senator, I think it’s important that I address the broader point in your in your statement.”


Sen. Cruz continued:

“So are you willing to answer the question yes or no? It is a yes or no question. Are they part of your corporate group or not?”


Mr. Beckerman answered:


“Senator, it is.”


Sen. Cruz asked:


“Yes, it is. Okay, so under your privacy policy, you’re explicitly stating that you may be sharing data with them including biometric identifiers, including face prints, including voiceprints. Is that correct?”


Mr. Beckerman answered:


“No, Senator, in the privacy policy, it says that if we are to collect biometric information, which we do not collect biometric data to identify Americans, we would provide consent, an opportunity for consent first.”

Sen. Cruz continued:


“But you also say, ‘we may share all of the information we collect with a parent subsidy or other affiliate of our corporate group,’ which means with ByteDance headquartered in Beijing, correct?”


Mr. Beckerman answered:


“Under U.S. access control, sir.”


Sen. Cruz asked:


“Alright, secondly, what about Beijing ByteDance Technology, which media reports from earlier this year showed Beijing took a minority stake in through a state-backed “Internet Investment Chinese” entity and on the board of which now sits Wu Shugang, a CCP official who spent most of his career in Chinese propaganda, including with a stint at the Online Opinion Bureau, under the Cyberspace Administration of China, China’s internet regulator. Would you consider Beijing ByteDance technology to be a part of TikTok’s corporate group, with whom TikTok could share all of the information it collects?”


Mr. Beckerman answered:


“Senator, I want to be clear that that entity has no affiliation with TikTok. It’s based for domestic licenses of the business in China that has not affiliated or connected to TikTok.”


Sen. Cruz continued:


“So are you saying no? Yes or no as to whether Beijing ByteDance Technology is part of your corporate group, as the privacy policy defines it, it says we may share all of the information we collect with a parent-subsidiary or other affiliates. Presumably, that’s where it would fall – other affiliate of our corporate group. Is Beijing ByteDance Technology a, ‘other affiliate of your corporate group?’”


Mr. Beckerman answered:


“Senator, I’m saying that entity deals with domestic businesses within China is. It’s not connected with TikTok.”


Sen. Cruz continued:


“You’re having a hard time. You’re answering questions I’m not asking. Again, it’s a yes, no. Is Beijing ByteDance Technology a, ‘other affiliate of your corporate group,’ as your own privacy policy defines it?”


Mr. Beckerman answered:


“Senator, I’m just trying to be clear to answer your question. That entity is based in China for the Chinese business that is not affiliated or connected with TikTok.”


[…]

Sen. Cruz continued:


“So I’ll point out it took three questions to get you to answer about your parent, you finally answered yes that you can share all your information with your parent company based in Beijing. I’ve asked you three times about this sister company that is obviously another affiliate, you’ve refused three times. That may be revealing, often as Sherlock Holmes observed about the dogs that do not bark, it may be revealing that the Chinese propaganda minister that is serving on your sister company and who’s been in the business of online propaganda, you’re refusing to answer whether they fall under your privacy policy. That reveals, I think, a great deal, unfortunately.”


Mr. Beckerman answered:

“Senator, with all due respect, I’m just trying to be accurate here. There’s a lot of accusations that are just not true. And I want to make sure that it’s clear.”


Sen. Cruz continued:


“I’m going to give you one more chance, and my time is over. But look in baseball, three strikes, you’re out. Tonight the Astros are going to begin winning the World Series. Let’s see if a fourth strike, you could actually answer the question. It’s just a simple yes, no. Is Beijing ByteDance Technology a, ‘other affiliate of our corporate group,’ as your privacy policy defines that?”


Mr. Beckerman answered:


“Senator, as I pointed out before to the right, my answer is the same.”


Sen. Cruz continued:


“Yes or No? You didn’t answer.”


Mr. Beckerman answered:

“Senator, I appreciate you’re trying with ‘gotcha’ questions. I’m just trying to be”


Sen. Cruz continued:


“It’s not a ‘gotcha’ question. I’m asking you about your policy.”


[…]

Sen. Cruz asked:


“You’re here under oath. Are you going to answer the questions, or were you instructed not to answer this question?”


Mr. Beckerman answered:


“I answered the question. It is not affiliated […] No, senator, I’m just trying-”


Sen. Cruz continued:

“Or you’re just refusing to answer because you don’t want to?”


Mr. Beckerman answered:


“Senator, it is not affiliated with TikTok. If that’s your question, that is the answer.”


Sen. Cruz continued:


“So your answer – I want to be clear – because you’re under oath, your answer is that Beijing ByteDance Technology is not a, ‘other affiliate of our corporate group,’ as your privacy policy uses that term. This is a legal question with consequence.”


Mr. Beckerman answered:

“Senator, I understand the question. As I pointed out, TikTok is not available in China. That is an entity that is for purposes of a license of business in China that is not affiliated with TikTok.”


[…]


Sen. Cruz continued:


“You’re not willing to say yes or no.”


Mr. Beckerman answered:


“It’s not a yes or no question. I want to be precise. I want to be-”


Sen. Cruz continued:


“Is this company another affiliate as defined in your privacy policy? That is binary. There’s not a maybe. It’s yes or no.”


Mr. Beckerman answered:


“Senator, I’m – the way I answered. I’m not aware of that. That is the answer to the question.”


Sen. Cruz continued:


“Okay. So you’re refusing to answer the question. That does not give this committee any confidence that TikTok is doing anything other than participating in Chinese propaganda and espionage on American children.”


Mr. Beckerman answered:

“Senator, that’s not accurate. And again, I would point you to outside experts.”


Sen. Cruz concluded:


“If it were not accurate, you would answer the questions, and you have dodged the questions more than any witness I have seen in my nine years serving in the Senate. That is saying something because witnesses often try to dodge questions, but you answer non-sequiturs and refuse to answer very simple questions. That in my experience – when a witness does that, it is because they’re hiding something.”


  • TikTok

  • Social media

  • China

  • Ted Cruz

  • Data sharing

  • national security

  • privacy rights

  • Senate Commerce Committee

  • Snapchat

  • YouTube

  • Michael Beckerman

  • Chinese Communist Party

  • Beijing ByteDance Technology Co

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