ByteDance, the company which owns TikTok, is based in Beijing and incorporated in the Cayman Islands. The company has garnered scrutiny from officials in response to alleged privacy breaches and national security risks.
“ByteDance-owned TikTok has knowingly allowed the ability for the Chinese Communist Party to access American user data. Americans deserve to know how these actions impact their privacy and data security, as well as what actions TikTok is taking to keep our kids safe from online and offline harms,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) said in a statement announcing the March 23 hearing. “We’ve made our concerns clear with TikTok. It is now time to continue the committee’s efforts to hold Big Tech accountable by bringing TikTok before the committee to provide complete and honest answers for people.”
TikTok, which surpassed Google and other competitors to become the most visited website in the world two years ago, pioneered the vertical video format that other companies have sought to emulate. The addictive nature of TikTok has also provoked unease as researchers link the platform with social contagions, including the self-diagnosis of mental illnesses and personality disorders; Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) has likened the platform to “digital fentanyl.”
President Joe Biden recently signed legislation banning TikTok from all devices owned by the federal government. Officials such as FBI Director Christopher Wray have noted the platform’s capacity to manipulate content, initiate influence operations, and collect user data for traditional espionage operations. Several states, including Nebraska, Alabama, Iowa, and North Dakota, had previously banned the platform from government devices.
“TikTok is a Trojan Horse for the Chinese Communist Party,” Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO), the sponsor of the federal legislation, said in a statement. “It’s a major security risk to the United States, and until it is forced to sever ties with China completely, it has no place on government devices.”
ByteDance garnered controversy for planning to track the location of specific American citizens, according to a report from Forbes. An internal audit and risk department launched by the company was initially supposed to investigate misconduct from current and former employees. Yet, the team allegedly planned to collect data about the location of at least one American who had never been employed by ByteDance.
The legislative action and upcoming hearings occur as government officials become increasingly suspicious of Chinese companies and their associations with the nation’s government. The Biden administration investigated Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei over concerns that cell towers in the United States using the company’s devices were transmitting data on nearby military bases and missile silos to the Chinese Communist Party. A final rule published last year by the Federal Communications Commission will prohibit Huawei, ZTE, Hikvision, and Dahua from importing and selling certain technology that the agency considers a potential threat to national security. The new rule, however, does not apply to technology already within the nation’s borders.