Wednesday, TikTok dismissed rumors that the Biden administration had demanded that its Chinese owners surrender their holdings in the popular video-sharing app, stating that such a step would not safeguard national security.
The firm was responding to a Wall Street Journal story that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., a division of the Treasury Department, was threatening a U.S. ban on the app unless its Beijing-based owners sold.
“If defending national security is the purpose, divestiture does not fix the problem: a change in ownership would not impose additional constraints on data flows or access,” said Maureen Shanahan, a spokesman for TikTok. “The most effective method to address national security concerns is through the transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with comprehensive third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are now implementing.”
The Journal article quoted unidentified “people with knowledge of the situation.” The Treasury Department and the National Security Council of the White House declined to comment.
The White House told all federal agencies 30 days to remove TikTok from all government devices at the end of last month.
The Office of Management and Budget referred to the recommendations as a “crucial step forward” in addressing the threats posed by the application to sensitive federal data. There are currently limits in place at the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State. The White House does not currently permit TikTok on its devices.
In December, Congress enacted the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act” as part of a comprehensive federal financing bill. The law does permit the use of TikTok in specific circumstances, including national security, law enforcement, and study.
In the meanwhile, both the House and Senate have been advancing legislation that would give the Biden administration additional authority to regulate TikTok.
Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, has been an outspoken opponent of the app, claiming that the Chinese Communist Party uses it to “manipulate and monitor its users as it gobbles up American data to be utilized in its harmful actions.”
“Everyone who has TikTok installed on their device has granted the CCP access to all of their personal data. It’s a surveillance balloon in your phone, claimed the Republican from Texas.
Two-thirds of U.S. adolescents continue to use TikTok, which is incredibly popular. Yet, there is growing worry that China may gain control of American user data gathered by the program.
The company has been dismissive of the ban for federal devices and has noted that it is developing security and data privacy plans as part of the Biden administration’s ongoing national security review.