Congress Worries TikTok Is A National Security Threat

Topline: Senators from both parties on Wednesday asked the acting director of national intelligence in a letter to investigate whether the widely popular video sharing app TikTok is a national security threat, tapping into anxieties about the growing influence of China in the economy and the lives of U.S. citizens.

  • The letter was signed by Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Republican senator Tom Cotton (R-AR).
  • Since TikTok is owned by Beijing-based tech company ByteDance, Schumer and Cotton worry that China’s communist government could potentially compel Bytedance to hand over data collected from U.S. users.
  • The senators also said that the platform could censor and manipulate information damaging to the Chinese government, such as videos about the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Tiananmen Square, the treatment of Uighurs and Tibetan and Taiwanese independence.
  • TikTok lets users create and share short videos, which are usually light-hearted pranks, comedy sketches or lip-synching videos. It’s the third-most-downloaded app in the App Store and has surged in popularity among teens.
  • A TikTok spokesperson told Forbes that the company does not have “details on the request” from Schumer and Cotton and added that “TikTok is committed to being a trusted and responsible corporate citizen in the U.S., which includes working with Congress and all relevant regulatory agencies.

Crucial quote: “With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” the letter said.

News peg: U.S. businesses are struggling to navigate upholding American free speech values and potentially lucrative business interests in China. The esports industry and the NBA have been embroiled in their own scandals this month about statements in support of the Hong Kong protests.

Key background: Lawmakers are becoming increasingly worried about the growing influence of Chinese companies on the U.S. economy. The potential designation of TikTok as a national security threat is similar to that of Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, which was blacklisted by U.S. trade authorities earlier this year. And the White House is reportedly considering curbing U.S. investment in China as President Donald Trump seeks a trade deal with the country. 

Tangent: While censorship has been common complaint about TikTok, the app was also in hot water this week for failing to catch ISIS propaganda on the platform. 

Further reading: Read the full letter here.