Chinese Entities Blacklisted, Surveillance of Facebook Users, TikTok Algorithm Changes

Commerce and Treasury departments will bar investment and exports for Beijing-aligned companies.

Chinese Entities Blacklisted, Surveillance of Facebook Users, TikTok Algorithm Changes
Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg

December 17, 2021 – President Joe Biden’s administration added several Chinese companies and research institutes to blacklists that restrict their access to U.S. investment and technology in response to their alleged support for China’s military and mass surveillance of mainly Muslim ethnic groups, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The action from the Commerce and Treasury departments targeted businesses such as an undersea fiber optic cable company, facial recognition technology developers and a commercial drone maker.

Last week, the U.S. acted to further restrict exports to major Chinese semiconductor chip manufacturer SMIC due to the company’s alleged ties to the Chinese military.

In total, more than 40 companies and other entities were added to either the Commerce Department entity list, restricting access to U.S. exports, or to a Treasury list that bans American investment in companies supporting the Chinese military.

China’s Foreign Ministry has criticized efforts to blacklist Chinese companies, with a Beijing spokesman on Thursday calling U.S. action “unwarranted suppression on Chinese companies.”

Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced initiatives with international allies to track and combat Chinese surveillance.

Meta reveals users may have been targeted by “surveillance-for-hire” campaigns

Facebook parent company Meta revealed Thursday that 50,000 of its users across 100 countries may have been targeted by “surveillance-for-hire” companies.

As the result of a months-long investigation, Meta disabled seven entities based in China, Israel, India and North Macedonia which were found to have targeted internet users on behalf of governments or private clients.

According to Meta’s blog post, targets of the surveillance efforts included “journalists, dissidents, critics of authoritarian regimes, families of opposition and human rights activists.”

The company says it shared findings about attempted attacks with security researchers, alerted targeted users and issued cease and desists to attackers.

About 1,500 Facebook and Instagram accounts were linked to the seven surveilling entities and removed.

TikTok algorithm tweaked to lessen harmful content

TikTok said it would alter its recommendation algorithm to prevent users from being shown too much of the same content on topics thought to be causing negative psychological outcomes in young users.

The company says it wants to protect against users “viewing too much of a content category that may be fine as a single video but problematic in clusters,” such as extreme dieting, sadness or breakups.

Leading up to this announcement Thursday, U.S. and international lawmakers had been scrutinizing TikTok and peers like Instagram over data-privacy concerns and potential effects of their platforms on the psyches of younger users.

In one hearing before the U.S. Senate, TikTok, Snapchat and YouTube were largely noncommittal to lawmakers requests for changes to platforms designed to protect child users.

TikTok also announced Thursday that it will allow users greater flexibility to choose videos they do or do not want to view such as by picking words or hashtags associated with content they do not want to be shown.

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