Is TikTok a risk to Canadian privacy? A federal committee wants to find out

Click to play video: 'TikTok security and safety concerns'
TikTok security and safety concerns
WATCH: TikTok security and safety concerns – Dec 16, 2022

A House of Commons committee voted on Wednesday to launch a study into TikTok, a popular social media app that’s come under scrutiny over its ties to the Chinese government, as well as other social media platforms.

The Liberal motion, which MP Iqra Khalid brought forward, was carried during a House of Commons ethics committee meeting on Tuesday — but only after an amendment was added.

The original motion called on the committee to focus solely on TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance Ltd., but NDP MP Matthew Green proposed an amendment to broaden that scope to include all social media platforms.

The amended motion, which was carried with unanimous support from all parties, calls on the members to dig into TikTok and other social media platforms’ involvement or use “of private information of Canadians for the objective of data harvesting.”

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It would also look at “illicit sharing of personal information with foreign entities” and whether the “private information of Canadians is adequately protected and stored.”

As part of the study, which will span at least three meetings, the committee plans to invite witnesses from the Communications Security Establishment, key executives from ByteDance, as well as relevant cybersecurity experts and watchdogs.

The committee did not immediately settle on a start date for these meetings.

In an email Thursday, a spokesperson for TikTok told Global News that the company continues to have a “constructive relationship” with the Canadian government and welcomes the opportunity to “engage with policymakers to demonstrate how we protect the security and privacy of Canadian users.”

“With success and growth comes scrutiny, and we are committed to not only meeting but exceeding Canadians’ expectations when it comes to the security and privacy of their data,” the spokesperson said.

“We welcome the opportunity to set the record straight regarding falsehoods about the integrity of the TikTok platform.”

The move comes as the United States is considering legislation to ban the app amid fears it could be used to spy on Americans and censor content.

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It has also faced similar scrutiny from European officials, and the app has been banned in India.

Click to play video: 'TikTok’s algorithm aggressively pushes harmful content to teens, study finds'
TikTok’s algorithm aggressively pushes harmful content to teens, study finds

A number of universities across the United States have banned TikTok on school-owned devices.

Congress also recently banned TikTok from most U.S. government-issued devices over bipartisan concerns about security.

TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020. It has been targeted by critics who say the Chinese government could access user data, such as browsing history and location.

Those fears stem from a Chinese law that requires private companies to cooperate with Beijing if asked.

U.S. armed forces also have prohibited the app on military devices.

TikTok is consumed by two-thirds of American teens and has become the second-most popular domain in the world. But there’s long been bipartisan concern in Washington and, more recently, in Ottawa that Beijing would use legal and regulatory power to seize American user data or try to push pro-China narratives or misinformation.

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Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have warned that TikTok user data could be shared by owner ByteDance with China’s authoritarian government. U.S. officials also worry that the Chinese government might use TikTok to push pro-China narratives or misinformation.

Fears were stoked by news reports last year that a China-based team improperly accessed data of U.S. TikTok users, including two journalists, as part of a covert surveillance program to ferret out the source of leaks to the press.

There are also concerns that the company is sending masses of user data to China, in breach of stringent European privacy rules.

TikTok has also come under scrutiny for its impact on the mental health of its users.

In a statement sent to the Associated Press in late January, Jamal Brown, a spokesperson for TikTok, said it was frustrated by blowback.

“We’re disappointed that so many states are jumping on the political bandwagon to enact policies that will do nothing to advance cybersecurity in their states and are based on unfounded falsehoods about TikTok,” Brown said.

TikTok has said it is developing security and data privacy plans as part of an ongoing national security review by President Joe Biden’s administration.

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— with files from The Associated Press

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