American Airlines Risks US National Security By Partnering With China-Owned TikTok

American Airlines Risks US National Security By Partnering With China-Owned TikTok

'American Airlines is providing the Chinese with a means of accessing [passengers] while they're basically held as a captive audience,' J. Michael Waller told The Federalist.
Shawn Fleetwood
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American Airlines announced it will be partnering with the social media app TikTok to bring the entertainment platform to its roster of inflight entertainment offerings.

According to the company’s press release, fliers traveling on Viasat-equipped narrowbody aircraft will be provided with 30 minutes of free access to TikTok, including the ability to “search for popular video creators, their favorite topics or even hashtags like #travel, #traveltips, or #traveltheworld to view related video content for travel and adventure enthusiasts.” When exploring TikTok, customers will also be able to access a bevy of videos pertaining to “travel inspiration,” “music and dance trends,” and “comedians and pop culture experts,” among others.

“Faster Wi-Fi allows us to deliver diverse inflight entertainment options and invest in innovative partnerships with platforms like TikTok,” said Clarissa Sebastian, American’s managing director of premium customer experience and onboard products. “Customers play the lead role in helping us better understand what content they want during their inflight experience and TikTok is one of the platforms they love on the ground, and we’re thrilled to work with Viasat to give customers free access to TikTok while they’re in the air as well.”

The newly announced partnership, however, raises serious U.S. national security concerns. TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is a China-based company with a long track record of collaborating with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), including assisting the state in disseminating propaganda and condoning the regime’s human rights abuses against Uyghur Muslims. Moreover, Zhang Fuping, ByteDance’s vice president, is the head of the company’s Chinese Communist Party committee.

Speaking with The Federalist, J. Michael Waller, senior analyst for strategy at the Center for Security Policy, blasted the new partnership while also describing how TikTok represents a major national security issue for the United States.

“The fact that a legacy American carrier with a global flight service is using a Chinese digital information operation as part of its offerings to passengers is really an alarming thing to see,” Waller said. “There are concerns that it is collecting intelligence on everyone who uses the service. If that’s the case, you have a leading American global air carrier that is incorporating Chinese spyware into its passengers’ entertainment offerings around the world.”

Waller went on to warn about potential consequences of the deal, noting that TikTok on American Airline flights could indirectly give the CCP access to highly influential figures throughout the United States.

“[American Airlines] caters to businessmen. It caters to diplomats. It caters to intelligence officers,” Waller said. “It caters really to anyone who has a role in making decisions or influencing policy in the United States and elsewhere around the world, and now American Airlines is providing the Chinese with a means of accessing them while they’re basically held as a captive audience wherever they’re traveling.”

Federalist senior contributor Helen Raleigh echoed similar sentiments, saying companies like American Airlines “must recognize the malicious intentions of the CCP, take national security seriously, and take actions to protect U.S. customers’ data.”

“The biggest concern is data collection and how the CCP will use and put today’s youth, who will be our future senators, scientists, and businessmen, in compromising positions because of silly, embarrassing stuff they shared,” she told The Federalist. “No U.S. company’s bottom line is secure if our national security is compromised.”

While TikTok has repeatedly denied any connections to the communist government, the CCP’s 2017 National Intelligence Law requires any Chinese citizen or organization to “support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law, and keep the secrets of the national intelligence work known to the public.”

When pressed by The Federalist about whether American Airlines was concerned about TikTok’s connections to the Chinese government, a spokeswoman for the company avoided answering the question but claimed that American Airlines does “not share any data with TikTok through this offering,” and that the airliner does not “have a direct commercial relationship with the company.”

“Accessing American’s free inflight entertainment content is important to our customers, and American strives to offer options that accommodate a wide range of preferences,” she said. “Based on customer feedback, connecting with family and friends through personal accounts on social media platforms while in flight is important to them. With that in mind, we work with our Wi-Fi provider to offer customers more of what they want — a diverse variety of entertainment options, which currently includes TikTok.”

“During this promotional period we will be evaluating and learning from customer feedback and engagement to help inform future decision making,” she added.

In a letter addressed to American’s CEO Doug Parker, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio urged the company to terminate the so-called “innovative partnership,” while citing the threat the deal poses to U.S. national security.

“By partnering with TikTok, American Airlines is now lending its brand credibility to a company that endangers national security and the data security of tens of millions of Americans, many of them minors,” Rubio wrote. “I urge you to suspend American Airlines’ ‘innovative partnership’ with TikTok while the U.S. Government completes its investigation into the national security risks posed by the Chinese-owned app.”

The deal between American and TikTok officially launched on Monday, Aug. 2, with airliners set to incorporate the offering immediately.

Shawn Fleetwood is an intern at The Federalist and a student at the University of Mary Washington, where he plans to major in Political Science and minor in Journalism. He also serves as a state content writer for Convention of States Action. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnFleetwood

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