Senator Josh Hawley is suggesting that Apple and TikTok’s refusal to testify at a Tuesday Senate Judiciary hearing on China’s threat to US consumer data is a sign that they have something to hide.
Hawley invited both companies to testify at the hearing titled “How Corporations and Big Tech Leave Our Data Exposed to Criminals, China, and Other Bad Actors” but they have so far refused to attend.
A TikTok spokesperson said the company appreciates Hawley’s invitation but will be unable to attend because of the short notice: “Unfortunately, on short notice, we were unable to provide a witness who would be able to contribute to a substantive discussion.”
Both companies have faced growing scrutiny over their business relationships with China during the last month. Days ago the US government opened a national security review of TikTok after US senators raised concerns about the company’s ties to China. Apple was also recently slammed by Hawley and other US senators for removing a popular Hong Kong protest safety app from its App Store – a decision which many suggested was being made at the behest of Chinese censors.
In a recent interview with Axios on HBO, Hawley raised concerns that the Chinese government may be able to access US TikTok user data, despite the company’s claims that this data is stored outside of China and not subject to Chinese law:
“I would say that doesn’t necessarily mean that the communist government doesn’t have access to the data. I don’t know that it matters where the data is stored for that kind of a company. I think you’ve got to assume that there is a backdoor way into that data.”
Hawley also questioned Apple’s encryption and data security practices in China:
“My question is, are they storing encryption keys in China? The answer to that is yes. Then what kind of data are they storing in China? Whose data? Any American data? What about people who have Chinese relatives or business partners or other ventures, so they’re communicating with people in China? Does that expose American users to potential surveillance by the Chinese state?”
Apple has previously claimed that it has control of encryption keys that are stored in China and suggested that Chinese authorities can’t ask Apple to decrypt the data of US users.
Hawley added that Apple and TikTok’s deals with the Chinese government and the data they collect from US customers could threaten American security:
“[As] these Big Tech companies try to get into the Chinese market, the compromises that they have to make with the Communist Chinese Party — who, let’s not forget, partner with or control every industry of any size in China — what does that do to American security?”
Hawley said his main concern is related to the potential profiling of US teens through data collected by companies connected to the Communist Chinese Party.
“Think about the profiles that American companies, [and] Chinese companies connected to the Communist Party, could build on people who are today just in their teens,” Hawley said. “I mean, these are the things that as a parent with two small children at home, I worry about every day.”