TikTok Offered US ‘Kill Switch’ Over Data Concerns

TikTok offered the US government a “kill switch” that could shut down the app’s operations in the country in an effort to allay national security concerns, the company revealed in legal filings as it prepares to combat a US ban law.

The offer was made in a 100-page draft national security agreement offered to the government in August 2022, and offered lawmakers the ability to shut down TikTok’s US operations if they believed the company was not following certain rules, the Washington Post earlier reported.

Those rules would have included sufficiently funding its data protection operations and ensuring Beijing-based parent company ByteDance did not have access to US users’ data, according to the document.

It would have given the government the “explicit authority to suspend the platform in the United States at the US government’s sole discretion” if those rules were broken.

Image credit: Unsplash

‘Sledgehammer’

TikTok, ByteDance and a group of US TikTok creators last week filed briefs in the upcoming case, which is to commence with oral arguments on 16 September.

TikTok and ByteDance had filed a case separate from that of the creators, with the two later being consolidated.

The two companies argued the law represents government overreach similar to previous ban attempts by then-president Donald Trump and the US state of Montana.

“This law is a radical departure from this country’s tradition of championing an open internet, and sets a dangerous precedent allowing the political branches to target a disfavored speech platform and force it to sell or be shut down,” the companies said.

Lawmakers have framed the law as a forced divestment rather than a ban, something the companies say is illusory since such a divestment would be technically and financially impossible.

They argued the government has not been negotiating in good faith and disclosed the “kill switch” proposal to support the brief’s claim that Congress “reached for a sledgehammer without even considering if a scalpel would suffice”.

Negotiations

In a 1 April 2024 letter addressed to the US Department of Justice, also included in the filings, TikTok’s legal representation alleges the government “ceased any substantive negotiations” after the 2022 proposal and ignored requests to meet for further negotiations.

The government did not respond to TikTok’s invitation to “visit and inspect its Dedicated Transparency Center in Maryland”, the letter states.

In May a US government official told the Post that the solution proposed by the companies “would be insufficient to address the serious national security risks presented”.

The official added: “While we have consistently engaged with the company about our concerns and potential solutions, it became clear that divestment from its foreign ownership was and remains necessary.”

TikTok is used by 170 million users in the US and the government says it is concerned data on them could be obtained by Chinese authorities, something TikTok denies.

In a supporting document filed by TikTok, University of California professor Steven Weber said the government was wrong to single out TikTok as concerns about propaganda, disinformation and data security were “industry-wide issues that are not unique to TikTok”.

He noted that many US tech companies have China-based subsidiaries and “therefore face the same theoretical risk” of data disclosure.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

Recent Posts

Hackers ‘Publish Walt Disney Internal Slack Data’

Hackers reportedly publish data from thousands of Disney internal Slack communications, including data on strategy…

6 hours ago

Apple Shares Reach All-Time High On AI Optimism

Apple shares surge after Morgan Stanley rates company 'top pick' over AI plans and says…

6 hours ago

Musk Confirms Robotaxi Delay For Design Change

Elon Musk confirms delay of Tesla robotaxi launch as company's shares surge after he publicly…

7 hours ago

Silicon UK In Focus Podcast: The Value of Data

Discover the transformative power of data in our latest podcast. Learn how leveraging data can…

7 hours ago

Smartphone Market Recovery Heading For ‘Slow, Steady Growth’

Global smartphone market shows growth for third consecutive quarter as it recovers from weakest year…

7 hours ago

Huawei Completes Massive $1.4bn R&D Campus With ‘100 Cafes’

Huawei Technologies completes work on massive centralised R&D campus as it seeks to develop domestic…

8 hours ago