Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz

Florida Rep. Gaetz Sounds Alarm On Chinese-Owned Website Targeting Military Families

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz (File)

At the urging of Rep. Matt Gaetz, the U.S. military’s cybersecurity agency pledges to investigate an alleged educational website that could be a front for the Chinese Communist Party — one that targets military families.

In an email to constituents on Saturday, the Fort Walton Beach Republican called attention to Tutor.com, an online service that connects students, beginning as young as kindergarten, to tutors.

Gaetz recalled a hearing last Wednesday of the Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems Subcommittee. The hearing focused on military operations in cyberspace and building cyber capabilities across the Department of Defense.

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The congressman noted that he was “astounded” to learn that many children of military families use Tutor.com as a learning tool despite its “clear and obvious” potential use as a “Chinese propaganda tool.”

“I made sure the commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, Gen. Timothy Haugh, was well aware of this security concern. Thankfully, he has committed himself to looking further into this issue,” Gaetz wrote.

Gaetz raised the issue of Tutor.com with Haugh at that hearing. He pointed out that the company is owned by Chinese nationalists through an American subsidiary.

On its website, Tutor.com says it “voluntarily initiated a rigorous federal review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to ensure that stringent safeguards would be put in place to protect customer and student data, together with mechanisms that provide for constant monitoring and compliance. Our data-protection practices are therefore among the most comprehensive and well-enforced of any U.S. education services provider.”

“As an American company, Tutor.com remains dedicated to the values, goals, and practices that we have championed over two decades of serving institutions and learners—foremost among which is protecting customer and learner data.”

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Despite that, Gaetz noted that Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. recently wrote to education leaders around the state advising them that Tutor.com is actually Chinese-owned.

In his letter last month, Diaz wrote, “Let me be clear, school districts, charter schools and state colleges should not contract with companies that have ties to foreign countries of concern and risk comprising student data. … Institutions must take the necessary steps to protect their students from nefarious foreign actors such as the Chinese Communist Party.”

Gaetz expressed disappointment that the Defense Department still allowed families access to Tutor.com after Diaz’s letter.

Haugh said his agency would look more at the website.

“We want to dive deeper and ensure we’re not bringing risk by whomever we partner with and whatever company,” Haugh told Gaetz.

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