WASHINGTON, D.C. – Citing potentially serious national security concerns, the Biden Administration this week threatened to ban the wildly popular video sharing social media app, TikTok, unless its Chinese owners Immediately sell off their shares.
TikTok owner ByteDance received the demand on Wednesday from the Committee on Foreign Investment, an agency that reviews the national security implications of foreign investments in U.S. companies or operations using classified information from the United States Intelligence Community.
The demand for TikTok to divest itself of its Chinese ownership comes after a Senate hearing earlier this month where FBI director Christopher Wray declared that China is using the app to mine the phones of U.S. residents for sensitive information, as well as to spread misinformation and propaganda.
“If you look at the Chinese government’s gobbling up of information and data, and then the use of AI and other tools, ultimately supercomputing, things like that, to marshal all that data to conduct targeting for espionage, targeting for IP theft, targeting for the all the things that I and others on this panel have been calling out about the Chinese government,” Wray said at the hearing. “Data is the coin of the realm, those who have the best information have the power and that’s what that enables them to do.”
Former President Donald Trump had previously attempted to ban TikTok for similar reasons in 2020.
TikTok – insanely popular with over 100 million downloads in the United States alone – issued a response via spokesperson Maureen Shanahan, saying that its Chinese ownership selling off their stakes would not address the issues regarding security risks.
“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,” she said. “The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing.”
Currently, ByteDance claims that their share of ownership is comprised of 60 percent of global investors, 20 percent employees, and 20 percent by the company’s Chinese founders.
The move to potentially ban TikTok has found bipartisan support amongst Democrats and Republicans, and in February, the Biden Admin ordered federal agencies to remove the app from all government devices.