May 26th, 2024

Trudeau won’t comment on future of TikTok in U.S., as Liberals tap app’s influencers

By The Canadian Press on April 24, 2024.

The TikTok Inc. logo is seen on their building in Culver City, Calif., Monday, March 11, 2024. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he's not going to comment on the future of TikTok in the United States, but says his own government will continue to look out for the security of Canadians. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Damian Dovarganes

OAKVILLE, Ont. – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is refusing to comment on the future of TikTok in the United States, at a time when his own party is leaning on the app and its influencers to deliver the Liberals’ political message to Canadians.

The U.S. Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would force TikTok’s parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, to sell its share of the social-media app within a year or face a ban in the platform’s largest market.

The proposed ban was slipped into a $95-billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, and was signed into law on Wednesday by U.S. President Joe Biden.

TikTok has since promised to challenge the “unconstitutional law” in court.

Trudeau said he is not going to comment on what other government’s are doing, but that his own will continue to look out for Canadians’ security.

“We know that the security, the privacy and the data protection of Canadians needs to be a first priority for us,” Trudeau said on Wednesday.

“We’ve already taken significant measures on that and we will continue to do that. But we will act in ways that are right for Canadians.”

The federal Liberals ordered a national security review of TikTok last September, and the app is banned on federal government devices.

However, it is still used by the federal Liberal and New Democratic parties, which rely on it to reach young Canadians who increasingly flock to the app to discover news, information and popular culture.

And over the past year, the federal government has invited influencers who have a following on TikTok to events and private briefings, including for housing announcements and the recent federal budget.

“Canadians are consuming digital content more and more. As the media landscape grows, so does our approach to how we communicate,” Mohammad Hussain, a spokesman for Trudeau, said last week.

TikTok is the fasting-growing social-media app in Canada, a report last year from Toronto Metropolitan University shows, but it is also considered the least trusted.

For years, Western governments have expressed concerns that the popular platform could put sensitive data in the hands of China’s government or be used as a misinformation tool.

Chinese law says the government in Beijing can order companies to help it gather intelligence.

A 2022 intelligence brief by Canada’s Privy Council Office shows TikTok is the first Chinese-owned app that to reach over a billion users beyond China, “creating a globally embedded and ubiquitous collection and influence platform for Beijing to exploit.”

“Despite assurances, there is growing evidence that TikTok’s data is accessible to China,” said the heavily edited brief, which was disclosed under access-to-information law.

The Prime Minister’s Office would not say whether it supports ByteDance selling its share of TikTok.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who had a large following on the app, was just one federal politician affected by the government-wide ban on devices imposed last year.

He said officials told him about concerns around the app tracking him and his movement, noting that members of Parliament can be easily identified.

But the NDP has since logged back onto the app, he said, as his team considers ways to also get the leader himself back on TikTok “in a safe way.”

“Our concern around TikTok is to make sure users in Canada are safe, that their data and their privacy is protected,” Singh said Wednesday in Edmonton.

The Conservatives, too, complied with the directive, but they also “went a step further to suspend use of the app altogether,” said Sebastian Skamski, a spokesman for Tory Leader Pierre Poilievre.

“Conservatives take seriously all threats to privacy and security from foreign authoritarian regimes and will always defend the individual privacy rights of Canadians,” he said.

“Justin Trudeau should be upfront and ensure Canadians are aware of the risks associated with using the app.”

An official for TikTok previously told a House of Commons committee that the company is taking steps to protect Canadians’ data by storing it in servers in the U.S., Malaysia and Singapore.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2024.

– By Mickey Djuric in Ottawa.

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