US launches national security probe into TikTok
Two years ago, China’s ByteDance Technology Co. completed the acquisition of U.S. based Musical.ly for $1 billion, which it then rebranded completely to be part of TikTok. Reuters reported that Tiktok did not seek regulatory approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) for the acquisition. This has now allowed the US government to launch a national security investigation into the short-video sharing social platform.
The investigation is majorly to review how TikTok collects, stores, uses, and censors data. There have also been concerns over China’s censorship of content seen by U.S. users. Moreover, it was suggested that the data could be used for influential campaigns from abroad.
US senators have noted that ByteDance is governed by Chinese laws, however, the company has said that is stores US data within the United States of America, as reported by Reuters. Moreover, Alex Zhu, the founder of Musical.ly who now heads TikTok, has started directly reporting to Zhang Yiming, the CEO of ByteDance.
TikTok has been growing in popularity in the US, giving strong competition to social media giants such as Facebook on their home turf.
TikTok has 500 million monthly active users worldwide, of which 26.5 million are in the US alone. 60 percent of these 26.5M users are between the ages of 16 and 24 — the generation that most social platforms are targetting. Furthermore, it is growing in popularity among US teens.
A few weeks back Zuckerberg was heard in a leaked audio file reported by The Verge talking about TikTok and Facebook’s clone app to compete with the giant, saying “We have a product called Lasso that's a standalone app that we're working on, trying to get product-market fit in countries like Mexico ... We're trying to first see if we can get it to work in countries where TikTok is not already big before we go and compete with TikTok in countries where they are big."
On separate occasions, Zuckerberg has also been reported to criticise the app over censorship concerns.
The US government probe comes at a time when there is increased pressure on tech giants over the use of data as well as when trade tensions between the US and China are heightened. With this, TikTok joins the group of tech giants that are being investigated.
Although Facebook facing heat from the government isn’t new, this is the first time that TikTok is facing an investigation from US regulators.
“While we cannot comment on ongoing regulatory processes, TikTok has made clear that we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the U.S. Part of that effort includes working with Congress and we are committed to doing so,” said a TikTok spokesperson, as reported by Reuters.