The video-sharing app is being scrutinized over counterintelligence & censorship concerns.
The video-sharing app TikTok is currently the subject of a national security review by the U.S. government, according to multiple reports published Friday (Nov. 1).
The stories, published by outlets including Reuters and The New York Times, report that the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has opened an inquiry into the $1 billion acquisition of the U.S.-based video-sharing app Musical.ly by TikTok's Chinese parent company ByteDance in 2017, thereby giving it entry into Western markets. The CFIUS, which reviews foreign investment in U.S. companies for potential national security risks, is reportedly in talks with TikTok about steps it might take to divest from Musical.ly, which was folded into TikTok last August.
Neither TikTok nor the U.S. Department of the Treasury -- which chairs the CFIUS -- responded to Billboard’s requests for comment by press time.
In an Oct. 9 letter to U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Sen. Marco Rubio called on the CFIUS to investigate TikTok, citing “ample and growing evidence” that the app was “censoring content that is not in line with the Chinese government and Communist party directives” in Western markets, including the U.S. That request was followed by one last week from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Tom Cotton, who characterized the app as “a potential counterintelligence threat” and asked for an assessment of its national security risks in a joint letter addressed to U.S. Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. The senators voiced concerns that the app could become the target of a foreign influence campaign similar to Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by spreading propaganda on Facebook and other social media platforms.
In response to Schumer and Cotton's letter, TikTok released a lengthy statement refuting the senators’ allegations, noting that the app stores its data outside China and is not subject to Chinese law as a result.
“We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period,” the statement read. “Our US moderation team, which is led out of California, reviews content for adherence to our US policies -- just like other US companies in our space. We are not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government; TikTok does not operate in China, nor do we have any intention of doing so in the future.”
TikTok has also been targeted for scrutiny by the National Music Publishers’ Association in the U.S., which earlier this month called on Congress to investigate the app over potential copyright theft. In response to that letter, TikTok denied the NMPA’s claims, stating that the company "has broad licensing coverage across the music publishing industry…and has paid royalties since its inception.”
Though TikTok doesn’t operate inside China, ByteDance owns a separate video-sharing app, Douyin, that is widely used inside the country. According to the app tracker Sensor Tower, the two apps hit a combined 1 billion downloads worldwide in February, with TikTok being downloaded over 100 million times in the U.S. alone.