Multiple published reports say that the US government has launched a national-security review of the China-owned video app TikTok, popular with millions of US teens and young adults. The reports from Reuters, The New York Times and others say that the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has opened an inquiry. Several senators have recently noted concerns about censorship and data collection on TikTok.
The Treasury Department, which houses CFIUS, says it does not comment on specific cases. TikTok says it cannot comment on ongoing regulatory processes but earning the trust of US users and regulators is its highest priority.
TikTok's owner, ByteDance, acquired Musical.ly in 2017 and merged it into TikTok. Musical.ly operated out of offices in Shanghai and California.
The development comes after two senior US senators called for the government to study national security risks possibly posed by Chinese-owned video app TikTok, saying it could leave American users vulnerable to Beijing's spying. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Senator Tom Cotton had asked the Directorate of National Intelligence to "conduct an assessment of the national security risks" posed by TikTok.
"With over 110 million downloads in the US alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore," they said. Schumer and Cotton suggested that TikTok's owner ByteDance could be forced to share user information with Chinese intelligence.
It could also conceivably offer Beijing's spies a backdoor into users' smartphones and computers, similar to allegations against Chinese telecoms giant Huawei. Chinese laws could compel the company "to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party," they said. They noted that TikTok collects substantial personal data from users, making it a security risk.
With 500 million users worldwide, TikTok has exploded in popularity in the past two years, offering a platform to produce and publish music-synced videos up to 60 seconds long. The senators also warned it could potentially be used to influence voters in next year's election in the same way Russians manipulated US social media in the 2016 campaign.