BuzzFeed News published an explosive report on TikTok Friday. The Chinese-owned social media company has always batted away privacy concerns by insisting that information gathered by US users of the platform has stayed in America. But BuzzFeed’s Emily Baker-White reports that “according to leaked audio from more than eighty internal TikTok meetings, China-based employees of ByteDance have repeatedly accessed nonpublic data about US TikTok users.” In other words, TikTok’s assurances appear to have been lies.
Per BuzzFeed’s story, one member of TikTok’s Trust and Safety department said, “Everything is seen in China,” in a September 2021 meeting. In a meeting that same month, a director at the company reportedly “referred to one Beijing-based engineer as a ‘Master Admin’ who ‘has access to everything.’”
The ripple effects from this major tech story will be felt in Washington. The possibility of this sort of backdoor access from a country under totalitarian rule, where the lines between the private sector and the Chinese Communist Party are never clear, was the basis of the case for the ban on TikTok proposed by the Trump administration. Trump issued an executive order forcing ByteDance to sell the burgeoning social network. But when Biden took office, he dropped the order.
TikTok has subsequently announced that Oracle will store all the data from US users and the number of employees with access to that data will be limited. But, in light of the BuzzFeed report, the question is why the US government should be satisfied with taking TikTok’s word for it.
While the risks of overestimating the threat from TikTok are minimal, the opposite problem could be grave. In his original executive order, Trump noted that TikTok “automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, including internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search histories,” and argued that, “This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.”
These fears sound a lot less paranoid in light of the BuzzFeed story, while the fresh information makes the Biden administration decision to rescind the executive order look like a serious mistake. Thankfully, it’s not too late to reverse course.
Can Greitens be stopped?
Eric Greitens has presumably achieved what he hoped to achieve with the release of a deranged video advertisement in which the shotgun-toting Missouri Senate candidate and a team of heavily armed camouflaged men break down the door of a house while imploring viewers to go “RINO hunting”. “We are sick and tired of the Republicans in Name Only surrendering to Joe Biden and the radical left. Order your RINO Hunting Permit today!” read the Greitens tweet plugging the clip.
This incitement to violence from a former governor and the frontrunner in the race for the vacant Missouri Senate seat sparked much-deserved outrage. When it was pulled from social media, Greitens had the news story he wanted, and, inevitably, then told voters that he needed to be elected to the US Senate to stand up to Big Tech.
This ad doesn’t even come close to being the main reason why Greitens is unfit for office. Top of that list are the allegations of domestic violence and blackmail that forced Greitens to step down from governor in 2018. For those unfamiliar with Mr. Greitens’s sordid past, the former governor’s ex-wife, who has left Missouri for Texas out of fear of his political influence in the state, has accused him of violent abuse of her and their son in a sworn affidavit. Another woman, with whom Greitens was conducting an extramarital affair, accused Greitens of sexual misconduct, claiming he brought her to his basement, tied her up, took her clothes off and photographed her without her consent. These photographs, the woman alleges, were used as blackmail against her by Greitens. In 2018, he was charged for invasion of privacy, but the case never went to trial. A subsequent Republican-led investigation by the Missouri House of Representatives found the woman to be a credible witness.
The important question is: how can Greitens be stopped? With the primary six weeks away, he commands a healthy lead in the polls. Even after both sitting Missouri senators called on Greitens to drop out of the race after his ex-wife’s domestic abuse allegations, the most recent survey gave the former governor a six-point lead over Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt. Other contenders include Missouri representatives Billy Long and Vicky Hatzler. And in a crowded field, just one in four primary voters say they back Greitens. Condemnations of Greitens’s behavior is one thing, but the Missouri GOP must find whether they can work out a way to consolidate the rest of the field in time. If they don’t they will be jeopardizing what should be a safe Republican Senate seat. Crucially, Trump is yet to endorse in the race — until that potentially decisive intervention, it will be difficult to persuade a candidate to drop out. But the longer the Missouri GOP waits, the better Greitens’s chances.
Biden’s two-wheeled wobble
I’d be remiss not to mention this weekend’s presidential accident. As you have no doubt seen, Joe Biden took a tumble on his bike in Rehoboth on Saturday. The timing — at the end of a week when Democrats seemed to have decided that Biden’s age and suitability for office are now permissible topics of discussion — could hardly have been worse. In response, Trump has made a promise I feel confident he will keep: “I will never, ever ride a bicycle,” he said at a stop on his American Freedom tour in Tennessee.
What you should be reading today
Charles Lipson: Russia slogs through the Donbas
Stephen L. Miller: Kamala Harris’s zombie disinformation board
Jonathan Miller: Macron’s nightmare is complete
Matt Dixon, Politico: DeSantis draws huge cash haul from Trump donors
Jennifer Bilek, Tablet magazine: The billionaire family pushing synthetic sex identities
Patrick Hauf, Washington Free Beacon: Biden’s cigarette crackdown a boon for drug dealers, experts warn
President Biden job approval
Approve: 39.7 percent
Disapprove: 54.8 percent
Net approval: -15.1 (RCP Average)
Should Trump be charged with a crime for his role in the Capitol riot?
Yes: 58 percent
No: 40 percent (ABC/Ipsos)