US launches national security review of video app TikTok: reports


4 Nov 2019141 Views

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TikTok is said to be under a US national security investigation after a number of senators lobbied for the government to look into the firm.

The US government has launched a national security review of the China-owned video app TikTok, according to reports.

Reports on Friday (1 November) from Reuters, The New York Times and others said that the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews acquisitions by foreign firms, has opened an inquiry into TikTok owner ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of a predecessor app, Musical.ly.

Several senators have recently noted concerns about censorship and data collection on TikTok.

The US Treasury Department, which houses CFIUS, said it does not comment on specific cases because the agency, by law, cannot disclose to the public information filed to it.

TikTok said it cannot comment on ongoing regulatory processes, but it said it “has made clear that we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the US. Part of that effort includes working with Congress and we are committed to doing so”.

After acquiring Musical.ly, Beijing-based ByteDance merged it into TikTok, an app that has proven popular among young people. Musical.ly had previously operated out of offices in Shanghai and California.

National security risks

Senator Marco Rubio last month sent a letter to Treasury requesting a CFIUS review of the national security implications of the Musical.ly deal, saying there is “ample and growing evidence” that TikTok is censoring content that is not in line with the Chinese government.

He said there had been questions about why the app had so few videos of the recent protests in Hong Kong.

Senator Tom Cotton and senator Chuck Schumer later in October asked for the US intelligence community to assess national security risks of TikTok and other Chinese-owned content platforms in the US.

They said that while TikTok says it stores US user data in the US, the company must still adhere to Chinese law on supplying information to the government. Such accusations have also been levelled against other Chinese companies, including Huawei.

The senators also said that TikTok is a potential target of foreign influence campaigns similar to Russia’s attempts to undermine the 2016 US election on Facebook.

TikTok has said its data is not subject to Chinese law and that it does not remove content based on “sensitivities related to China”.

On the app, people share short videos, often set to music. It is searchable by user names, songs and hashtags, such as ‘thisishalloween’ or ‘tiktokcats’. It claims to have more than 500m active users in around 150 countries and regions.

– PA Media