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WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a hearing on Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray stated that the Chinese Communist Party has the ability to control “millions” of Americans’ cell phones via the popular video-sharing app Tiktok, a situation that he said presents very serious national security concerns.
Wray made the shocking admission while being questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee, saying that the Chinese government is able to mine the phones of U.S. residents for sensitive information, in addition to using them for an outlet to spread misinformation and propaganda.
“If you look at the Chinese government’s gobbling up of information and data, and then the use of AI and other tools, ultimately supercomputing, things like that, to marshal all that data to conduct targeting for espionage, targeting for IP theft, targeting for the all the things that I and others on this panel have been calling out about the Chinese government,” Wray said. “Data is the coin of the realm, those who have the best information have the power and that’s what that enables them to do.”
China’s hack of American multinational consumer credit reporting agency Equifax – Chinese hackers managed to stay in Equifax systems undetected for approximately 134 days in 2017 – enabled the country to steal Personal Identifiable Information (PII) from roughly half of the U.S. population.
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Tiktok, Wray said, gives China the opportunity to carry out this crime yet again, making the smartphone app a grave risk to Americans.
“So it’s the control of the data to conduct all sorts of big data operations. It’s the control of the recommendation algorithm, which allows them to conduct influence operations,” he said. “It’s the control of the software, which allows them to then have access to millions of devices. So you put all those three things together, and again, come back to the starting point, which is, this is a tool that is ultimately within the control of the Chinese government and it to me screams out with national security concerns.”
Wray, in response to a question from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), said that China could utilize Tiktok – which has surpassed 2 billion mobile downloads worldwide – to control the data of millions of users, to control the software on millions of devices, and use that information to push propaganda in order to drive a wedge against Americans and weaken and damage the U.S., a sentiment that Rubio agreed with.
“For example, in the U.S. kids are being encouraged to choke themselves out, we’ve had kids die,” Rubio noted. “In China, they’re encouraged to focus on math and science and building the country.”