TikTok, the video-sharing app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is facing the possibility of being sold or banned in the US due to concerns over national security risks and data privacy. The app has been accused of gathering data from millions of users, which could potentially fall into the hands of the Chinese government.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) first reported the request for a change in ownership, and TikTok confirmed the request to BBC News. The company stated that a forced sale would not change its data flows or access. The US government has not yet responded to the BBC News request for comment.
For years, American officials have raised concerns that data from the popular app could pose a national security risk. According to the WSJ, US President Joe Biden’s administration wants ByteDance to divest itself of TikTok to create a clear break from China. The Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS), which oversees national security risks, has unanimously recommended ByteDance divest from TikTok.
A spokesperson for TikTok confirmed that the company had been contacted by CFIUS but stated that the reporting was overstated and that it was not clear what “divestiture” meant in practice. The spokesperson further added that “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.” The spokesperson said that the best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems.
The fear is that TikTok hoovers up huge amounts of data on its users, similar to Instagram and Twitter. It can take biometric data from users and has access to location data. The information collected could be passed on to the Chinese government.
TikTok has claimed that it has undertaken an effort to move all US-based data to the US as part of an initiative it calls Project Texas. The company has told BBC News that it still plans to move forward with that plan. However, there are still concerns about data privacy.
A ban was first threatened under then-President Donald Trump in 2020. However, Mr Biden’s administration has also taken a dim view of the social network. TikTok is already banned on government phones in the US, Canada, and the EU.
Recently, new legislation was announced that would expand the president’s authority to ban TikTok nationwide. The Restrict Act would allow the US Commerce Department to declare foreign-linked companies national security risks. The development comes as TikTok’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, is set to testify before the US Congress next week in a widely anticipated showdown.