Despite a national security review over the increasingly popular social media app TikTok, Defense Department officials are not yet issuing any specific guidance regarding the Chinese-owned platform, used by service members in both a personal and official capacity.
Security training they receive on social media in general should be followed, a spokesman told Military Times on Monday, though TikTok is on their radar.
“The threats posed by social media are not unique to TikTok (though they may certainly be greater on that platform), and DoD personnel must be cautious when making any public or social media post,” Lt. Col. Uriah Orland said.
ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, is under investigation by the Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the Associated Press reported on Friday, for its 2017 deal to buy U.S.-made video messaging app Musical.ly ― the same year it launched TikTok, a version of a previous app that is only available in China, which now has more than 26 million active monthly users in the U.S.
The review comes after Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, sent a letter to the Treasury in October, asking for an inquiry into the national security implications of the Chinese company, complying with Chinese law, dealing with U.S. user data.
“... the threat posed through facial recognition, location data, and A.I. based image scanning techniques could allow the Chinese government to obtain sensitive information," Rubio said Tuesday in a statement to Military Times. "In the wrong hands, this information poses a risk, not only to the individual involved, but to American national security.”
Two more senators, Arkansas Republican Tom Cotton and New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, asked later in the month for a U.S. intelligence assessment of not only TikTok, but other Chinese-owned platforms. Their reasoning as that though these countries store U.S. data in the U.S., they are still compelled to follow Chinese government data-sharing regulations.
“...we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the U.S. Part of that effort includes working with Congress and we are committed to doing so,” a TikTok spokesman said in response to questions about the issue, AP reported, adding that its data is not subject to Chinese law and that it does not remove content deemed offensive by the Chinese government.
For its part, DoD and the military services do annual cyber awareness training for all troops that includes guidance on how to keep their information safe online. That includes turning off geo-tagging on apps, as well as controlling what they share about themselves or families.
Concerns arose in 2018 after a report that running routes and daily routines logged by the apps could be hacked to target not only personnel, but to decipher what kind of sensitive sites they might be navigating around.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.