The White House has told TikTok that parent company ByteDance, the Chinese internet giant, must sell its ownership position in the popular video app or face a ban in the U.S., TikTok said on Wednesday. The U.S. government made the demand citing national security concerns.
The news was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. The U.S. government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS), which is an interagency group oversees national security risks led by the Treasury Department that has the authority to block foreign transactions involving U.S. entities, “recently” demanded that ByteDance divest TikTok, per the Journal.
Lawmakers in the U.S. (and other countries) perceive TikTok as a potential threat to user privacy and national security given the app’s Chinese ownership. The fear is that the Chinese government could access sensitive information via TikTok; according to TikTok, it has never shared data with the Chinese Communist Party and has said Chinese authorities have not made any such requests.
In a statement, TikTok spokesperson Hilary McQuaide, “If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access.” According to TikTok, it is already responding to concerns from U.S. lawmakers and regulators by putting in place “U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification.”
In the U.S., legislation introduced in Congress would grant President Biden the authority to ban TikTok under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The White House last week signaled its support of the bill.
It’s not the first time American politicians have tried to ban TikTok. Donald Trump, in the waning months of his term as U.S. president, issued an executive order that threatened to ban TikTok in the country unless ByteDance sold a controlling interest in TikTok to American investors. U.S. federal courts blocked Trump’s order. In June 2021, Biden officially revoked Trump’s executive orders seeking to ban TikTok while also launching an investigation into apps that have ties to “foreign adversaries” that may pose national security or data privacy risks.
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