In Westminster these days, WhatsApp and Twitter are decidedly old school. Now the current craze is TikTok where MPs compete to gain followings through video clips. Zarah Sultana, the Coventry Corbynista, has the most TikTok supporters but the irresistible online app also has fans in at least two different Cabinet ministers’ households.
Not all in Parliament though are impressed with the firm, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance. Over the weekend, Buzzfeed News reported that leaked audio from more than 80 internal TikTok meetings detailed Chinese-based employees of the popular video sharing app repeatedly accessing US user data. The audio suggested that in some situations US employees could not access user data and instead relied on Chinese employees to do so, according to BuzzFeed.
Elizabeth Kanter, TikTok’s director of government relations, appeared at the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee in March 2021. In response to questioning by Nus Ghani MP she said that ‘None of our user data goes to China’ adding subsequently ‘TikTok does not share user data with ByteDance in China.’ However Chinese law requires TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance to share its data with the Chinese Communist Party whenever requested.
This has led Ghani and others members of the China Research Group to demand answers from the social media giant. She said:
It’s looking an awful lot like Tiktok misled Parliament during my Select Committee hearing. I’ll be writing to them to demand an explanation, and if we fail to get one, I will be seeking ways to make clear to them that the UK Parliament cannot and will not be mocked in this way.
TikTok did not respond to a request for comment from the Telegraph on whether British users’ data could be accessed from China. However the firm told the newspaper that:
We know we are among the most scrutinised platforms from a security standpoint, and we aim to remove any doubt about the security of US user data.
TikTok had been expected to announce that its non-US headquarters would be based in London but reportedly backed out of the plan in 2020 amid growing tensions between the government and China. Conservative MPs had called for it to store British users’ data in the UK as part of the plans.
Of course, that’s not the only business consuming the China hawks in the Commons. There’s also the upcoming All Party Parliamentary China Group (APPCG) summer reception. This event last year sparked something of a diplomatic row after the Chinese ambassador was barred from attending the reception on the House of Commons terrace after Ghani and other sanctioned MPs complained to Lindsay Hoyle.
This year the APPCG has wisely taken steps to avoid a repeat of such embarrassment, inviting MPs to a ‘location close to the parliamentary estate’ which will only be revealed to ‘registered attendees on the day’. Those going get to be joined by ‘UK and Chinese guests of honour.’
Will that include the ambassador? Might be nice for Beijing’s new man in London to actually get to go to one of these summer soirees…
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