The Biden administration demanded that ByteDance, the Chinese technology firm which controls social media platform TikTok, sell the vertical video application or face a possible ban in the United States.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers have voiced concerns over several reports indicating that members of the Chinese Communist Party have access to user data through TikTok, on which American young people spend more time than any other social media platform. The national security implications have induced calls for the Biden administration to force a divestiture of the platform from ByteDance or institute a nationwide ban.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a board composed of nine cabinet-level officials who weigh the national security implications of international investments, recently ordered ByteDance to sell the platform, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal released on Wednesday. The company vowed to spend $1.5 billion to protect American user data and ensure that Chinese officials could not access the information.
“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter contended in a statement to The Wall Street Journal. “The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing.”
TikTok has indeed offered a national security proposal called Project Texas to American officials. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States rejected the proposal, according to a Tuesday report from Bloomberg.
Officials in the Trump administration had likewise attempted to force a divestiture of TikTok three years ago due to similar national security concerns. Renewed controversy over TikTok comes amid worsening Sino-American relations sparked by at least one Chinese surveillance balloon recently traversing the continental United States.
President Joe Biden and multiple state-level officials have already banned TikTok from government devices. The European Union made a similar move last month.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) recently exhorted Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who leads the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, to force the sale of TikTok. The lawmakers noted how ByteDance acknowledged at the end of last year that staff members had “spied on the private data of journalists and others in order identify sources behind articles critical of the company,” as shown by a report from Forbes which also indicated that ByteDance planned to track the location of specific American citizens.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) recently publicized allegations from a former TikTok employee who claimed that employees of the firm, including members of the Chinese Communist Party who are on the company’s payroll, can switch between Chinese and American data with “nothing more than the click of a button.” Workers allegedly use applications created in China to “insert software backdoors,” Hawley described on the basis of the unnamed whistleblower’s account.
“I have seen first-hand China-based engineers flipping over to non-China datasets and creating scheduled tasks to backup, aggregate, and analyze data,” the whistleblower reportedly told Hawley. “TikTok and ByteDance are functionally the same company. They use the same data analysis tools and chat apps, and managers are in constant contact.”