The viral short-form video app TikTok has been staring down heightened scrutiny after several U.S. senators raised the alarm about possible cybersecurity concerns last month, and now it’s reportedly the subject of a U.S. national security review.
According to a Reuters report Friday, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is reviewing the app’s acquisition by its parent company, Beijing-based ByteDance, for potential threats to national security.
In 2017, ByteDance bought what would eventually become TikTok, the karaoke app Music.ly, in 2017 for as much as $US1 ($1.5) billion, eventually migrating over its millions of users to help fuel TikTok’s rapidly growing popularity in western markets. Worldwide, TikTok boasts roughly 800 million monthly active users and it surpassed 1 billion downloads earlier this year.
The specifics of the U.S. federal investigation remain unclear, though it’s likely to cover why the company didn’t secure clearance from the CFIUS for this purchase per Reuters. An anonymous source familiar with the review told the New York Times that officials possess evidence of TikTok sending data back to China, an allegation the company has repeatedly refuted.
In a blog post last month, TikTok stated that it relies on data centres in America and Singapore to store U.S. user data. Though ByteDance may be based in Beijing, Tiktok doesn’t operate out of the country and as such isn’t beholden to Chinese law. Its users, content and data also aren’t connected to ByteDance’s other products in China, a TikTok spokesperson told Gizmodo at the time.
TikTok did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment. A ByteDance spokesperson gave the New York Times the following statement:
“While we cannot comment on ongoing regulatory processes, TikTok has made clear that we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the U.S. Part of that effort includes working with Congress, and we are committed to doing so.”
Last week, U.S. senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) sent a request to Acting Director of U.S. National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to look into TikTok and evaluate it for possible cybersecurity threats. “With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” they wrote. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) also recently raised similar concerns, and he praised news of the committee’s move on Twitter Friday.
Last month I asked @USTreasury to conduct a CFIUS review of @tiktok_us. Because any platform owned by a company in #China which collects massive amounts of data on Americans is a potential serious threat to our country.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) November 1, 2019
It looks like TikTok’s shaping up to be the next battlefield between the United States and China, the latest proxy (along with those on an ever-growing blacklist of companies) in their struggle to come out on top in the global tech market.