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Microsoft Can’t Fix TikTok’s Spying Problems

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Anjum Naveed

With over 2 billion downloads worldwide, the Chinese owned viral dance app, TikTok is seemingly a pervasive success. Thanks to President Trump, it’s also front-page news. On July 31, President Trump threatened to ban the TikTok app in the United States. After a declaration that Microsoft was in talks to purchase TikTok, the president, opting for the diplomatic route, provided a grace period, saying that Microsoft (or another company) could acquire TikTok only if it did so within 45 days and gave the U.S. Government a cut of the deal.   

So, would a Microsoft-TikTok marriage be the utopian cure for the problems associated with TikTok? Absolutely not.   

Under current Chinese ownership, TikTok’s troubles are a three-step recipe for disaster. First, TikTok collects your data. Specifically, they have been caught invasively abusing the clipboard by grabbing keyboard content every 1-3 keystrokes. According to research done by Forbes, "The most acute issue with this vulnerability is Apple’s universal clipboard functionality... If TikTok is active on your phone while you work, the app can basically read anything and everything you copy on another device: passwords, work documents, sensitive emails, financial information. Anything."

Second, it is alleged that they are sharing your personal data with the Communist Chinese Party ("CCP"). The CCP is not a government of respect, benevolence or fairness. They take what they want with no consequence. If they want data from Byte Dance, nothing is stopping them from taking it. Therefore, the CCP can commandeer this data to build a dossier on each user, potentially steal banking data, drain bank accounts or expose sensitive medical information.   

Third, is the problem of misinformation. TikTok has been accused of targeting and removing content that does not align with Chinese policies. Essentially, they have the ability to create, delete or alter content to influence and persuade. This is such a serious concern that senators from both sides of the contentious political aisle have jointly raised concerns that TikTok may be used to influence U.S. elections. 

Upon cursory evaluation, it would be easy to view a Microsoft purchase of TikTok as a panacea. However, Microsoft has its own sordid ties to Communist China that should at least raise a few red flags. Per Microsoft’s own words, their most "complete subsidiary and largest R&D center outside of the United States is in China." It is well documented that Microsoft collaborated with a Chinese military-run university on several artificial intelligence research projects that can potentially be used for surveillance and censorship. 

Raising further censorship concerns, Microsoft worked with infamously dangerous spying company Huawei to effectively bring listening devices into millions of American homes. Microsoft is also customizing drone software and voice recognition systems for the Chinese market. As Paul Bradford’s August 2019 article in American Greatness clearly and correctly states, Microsoft is overjoyed with its relationship with the CCP and is up to no good.

Although a Microsoft purchase of TikTok would technically end Chinese ownership, it would not ameliorate the privacy concerns due to Microsoft’s cozy relationship with China. In China, there is no actual delineation between business and government. The best solution would be this: The President should place an America First edict on the terms of the sale. TikTok’s purchaser must be a U.S.-based company, domestically incorporated with a workforce solely based within the 50 states and does no business with China. For too long, China has been viewed as a partner as opposed to an enemy. By incorporating an America First approach, the president would protect U.S. citizens from privacy invasions and stimulate the economy. When the deal closes, the president could celebrate by joining TikTok and become the first president to be a viral dance sensation.

Erin M. Elmore is an attorney, political strategist, on-air correspondent, and the Executive Director of USA Strong, a grassroots organization focused on rebuilding American greatness. Her commentary has been featured on Fox News, Fox Business, Fox Nation, CNN, MSNBC, Yahoo News, Daily Mail, and The New York Post, among others. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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