Ted Cruz clashes with TikTok exec over Chinese espionage, propaganda allegations

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Sen. Ted Cruz sparred with a TikTok executive on Tuesday over whether the video-sharing platform’s fine print gives the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ data.

TikTok Vice President Michael Beckerman accused Mr. Cruz of asking “gotcha questions” during a Senate hearing, while the Texas Republican countered that Mr. Beckerman was behaving as someone “hiding something.”

Mr. Cruz repeatedly peppered Mr. Beckerman with questions about whether the vague language in TikTok’s privacy policy enabled its China-based owner ByteDance and its affiliates to have access to information from people using TikTok’s platform. Mr. Beckerman refused to answer with a yes or no response and instead sought to talk about how TikTok uses data.

“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. Cruz said.

“Senator, that’s not accurate,” interjected Mr. Beckerman.

“If it were not accurate you would answer the questions,” interrupted Mr. Cruz. “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 [in] nonsequiturs and refuse to answer very simple questions that, in my experience, when a witness does that it is because they are hiding something.”

American lawmakers have long raised concerns that TikTok users’ data is in jeopardy of falling into the hands of the Chinese Communist Party because of how China’s policies involving military-civil fusion remove barriers between China’s government and its commercial sector, including companies like ByteDance.

Mr. Cruz cited media reports from August asserting that the Chinese government took a minority stake in a ByteDance entity and Mr. Cruz said a communist official now sits on its board.

Asked about whether TikTok could share info with the ByteDance entity under its policies, Mr. Beckerman demurred.

“Senator, I want to be clear that that entity has no affiliation with TikTok,” Mr. Beckerman said to Mr. Cruz. “It’s based for domestic licenses of a business in China that [is] not affiliated or connected to TikTok.”

Mr. Cruz then pressed Mr. Beckerman repeatedly and was not satisfied with his responses.

“I’ve asked you three times about this sister company that is obviously another affiliate, you’ve refused three times — that may be revealing,” she said. “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.”

Lawmakers are not the only ones digging into TikTok’s operations. Former President Trump’s administration sought to ban TikTok’s app through an executive order to restrict transactions with ByteDance.

President Biden revoked those orders earlier this year and replaced them with new executive orders to create a framework for analyzing risks from technology services transactions involving foreign adversaries like China.

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