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FBI Director Wray says China could use TikTok to ‘control software on millions’ of US devices

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By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. operations of Chinese company TikTok raise national security concerns, FBI Director Chris Wray said on Tuesday, flagging the risk that the Chinese government could exploit the video-sharing app to influence users. or control their devices.

Risks include “the possibility that the Chinese government could use [TikTok] to control the collection of data on millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations,” Wray told U.S. lawmakers.

Beijing could also use the popular app, owned by ByteDance, to “control software on millions of devices”, giving it the ability to “technically compromise” those devices, he added.

The US government’s Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews US acquisitions by foreign acquirers for potential national security risks, in 2020 ordered ByteDance to divest TikTok over concerns that data from American users from being passed on to the Chinese Communist government. .

CFIUS and TikTok have been in talks for months in a bid to reach a national security agreement to protect the data of more than 100 million TikTok users.

TikTok leader Vanessa Pappas told the U.S. Congress in September that TikTok was moving toward a final agreement with the U.S. government to further protect U.S. user data and fully meet U.S. national security interests.

Asked about the FBI’s role in the CFIUS investigation, Wray said the agency’s foreign investment unit was part of the CFIUS process. “Our input would be factored into any agreement that might be reached to resolve the issue,” he added.

Wray noted that Chinese companies are required to “do whatever the Chinese government wants them to do in terms of sharing information or serving as a tool for the Chinese government. ‘to be extremely concerned’.

A TikTok spokesperson said: “As Director Wray clarified in his remarks, the FBI’s input is considered as part of our ongoing negotiations with the US government. Although we cannot comment details of these confidential discussions, we are confident that we are on track to fully satisfy all reasonable national security concerns of the United States.”

Former President Donald Trump in 2020 attempted to block new users from downloading WeChat and TikTok and ban other transactions that would have effectively blocked app usage in the US, but lost a series of battles court on the measure.

President Joe Biden in June 2021 withdrew a series of executive orders from Trump that sought to ban new downloads of the apps and ordered the Commerce Department to conduct a review of security issues with the apps.

Any security agreement with TikTok should include data security requirements.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Alexandra Alper and Matthew Lewis)