TikTok

U.S. Government Opens Official National Security Investigation Into TikTok

The inquiry from the Department of Commerce is looking into TikTok’s acquistion of Musical.ly in 2017.

Following outcry from lawmakers, the U.S. government has opened an official national security review into TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, over its acquisition of the music social media app Musical.ly, according to a Reuters report.

As TikTok, a video sharing app, has attracted over 110 million downloads in the U.S., legislators like Sen. Chuck Schumer have called on the intelligence community to investigate how ByteDance stories Americans’ personal data and how the company may be censoring politically sensitive content.

Now, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a part of the Commerce Department, has opened an inquiry into how ByteDance acquired Musical.ly, an American company used by mostly young people to share short music videos. Musical.ly was fully rebranded as TikTok in 2018.

The $1 billion acquisition was completed two years ago, but because ByteDance did not seek clearance from the committee when it acquired Musical.ly, CFIUS has authority to investigate the deal. CFIUS is tasked with “determining the effect of [foreign] transactions on the national security of the United States, according to a department website.

TikTok is in talks with CFIUS about what steps it could take to avoid divesting its Musical.ly assets, according to Reuters reporting. The news outlet said further details of those talks and specific concerns raised by the committee could not be learned as of Friday.

Senators have been speaking out about the potential national security implications of TikTok’s growing user base of young people. About 60 percent of TikTok’s American users are between the ages of 16 and 24, according to the company.

Over the past month, three senators have requested official investigations, including Republicans Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton along with Schumer, the Senate minority leader. Cotton and Schumer sent a letter on Oct. 24 to Joseph Maguire, the acting Director of National Intelligence that raised questions about potential censorship and data security concerns.

“With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” Schumer and Cotton wrote. “Importantly, security experts have voiced concern that China’s intelligence, national security, and cybersecurity laws compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party."

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

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