The United States government has reportedly opened a national security investigation into the Chinese-owned company TikTok over concerns of how the company stores the personal data of its users and whether it is censoring politically sensitive content.
Last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) asked U.S. intelligence officials to look into whether the social media app TikTok presented a threat to the U.S. national security.
“With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” the senators wrote. “Given these concerns, we ask that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-based content platforms operating in the U.S. and brief Congress on these findings.”
On Friday, Reuters reported that U.S. officials have launched a probe into “TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co’s $1 billion acquisition of U.S. social media app Musical.ly” even though “the $1 billion acquisition was completed two years ago.”
“The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews deals by foreign acquirers for potential national security risks, has started to review the Musical.ly deal, the sources said,” Reuters added. “TikTok did not seek clearance from CFIUS when it acquired Musical.ly, they added, which gives the U.S. security panel scope to investigate it now.”
In April, Digiday reported that, “according to TikTok’s pitch deck to U.S. agencies, about 60% of its monthly active users in the U.S. are between 16 and 24 years old. Also like Snapchat, users are heavily engaged with the app, spending 46 minutes per day on TikTok, on average.”
Earlier this month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg slammed TikTok for allegedly censoring sensitive political content that Beijing deems to be offensive.
“While our services like WhatsApp are used by protesters and activists everywhere due to strong encryption and privacy protections, on TikTok, the Chinese app growing quickly around the world, mentions of these protests are censored, even in the U.S.,” Zuckerberg said in regards to the Hong Kong protests. “Is that the internet we want?”
A September report from The Washington Post highlighted that while the Hong Kong protests were gaining significant traction on other social media platforms, it was not gaining traction on TikTok.
“Researchers have grown worried that the app could also prove to be one of China’s most effective weapons in the global information war, bringing Chinese-style censorship to mainstream U.S. audiences and shaping how they understand real-world events,” The Washington Post reported. “Compounding researchers’ concerns are TikTok’s limited public comments about the content it removes and its purported independence from censors in Beijing.”
On October 9, 2019, Sen. Marco Rubio wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin expressing his concerns over TikTok.
“These Chinese-owned apps are increasingly being used to censor content and silence open discussion on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese Government and Communist Party,” Rubio wrote. “These topics include Tiananmen Square, Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other issues.”
“I therefore request the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to exercise its authority and launch a full review of the national security implications of TikTok’s acquisition of Musical.ly,” Rubio continued. “There continues to be ample and growing evidence that TikTok’s platform for Western markets, including those in the U.S., is censoring content that is not in line with the Chinese Government and Communist Party directives.”
Rubio added, “The Chinese government’s nefarious efforts to censor information inside free societies around the world cannot be accepted and pose serious long-term challenges to the U.S. and our allies.”