TikTok pushed by US to address national security concerns

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration wants Chinese-owned TikTok to sell the app or face a possible ban, TikTok said Wednesday, as the White House toughens its stance on addressing national security concerns over the popular video service. .

The new request to sell the app has been passed on to TikTok in recent weeks, two people with knowledge of the matter said. TikTok is owned by Chinese internet company ByteDance.

The move is a significant shift in the Biden administration’s stance toward TikTok, which has come under scrutiny over fears that Beijing will request Americans’ data from the app. The White House had tried to broker a deal with TikTok that would apply new safeguards to its data and eliminate the need for ByteDance to sell its shares in the app.

But the demand for the sale — coupled with White House support for legislation that would allow it to ban TikTok in the United States — is toughening the administration’s approach. This recalls the position of former President Donald J. Trump, who threatened to ban TikTok unless it was sold to an American company.

TikTok said it was weighing its options and was disappointed with the decision. The company said its security proposition of storing Americans’ data in the United States offered the best protection for users.

“If protecting national security is the goal, divestment does not solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” said spokesperson Maureen Shanahan. from TikTok, in a statement.

TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew is due to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week. He is expected to face questions about the app’s ties to China, as well as concerns about spreading content that is harmful to young people.

A White House spokeswoman declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department, which led the negotiations with TikTok. The Justice Department also declined to comment. The sell request was reported earlier by The Wall Street Journal.

TikTok, with 100 million US users, is at the center of a battle between the Biden administration and the Chinese government over technological and economic leadership, as well as national security. President Biden has waged a massive campaign against China with huge funding programs to increase domestic production of semiconductors, electric vehicles and lithium batteries. The administration also banned Chinese telecommunications equipment and restricted US exports of chipmaking equipment to China.

The fight against TikTok began in 2020 when Mr Trump said he would ban the app unless ByteDance sold its stake to a US company, a move recommended by a group of federal agencies known as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS. .

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The Trump administration has finally appeared to strike a deal for ByteDance to sell part of TikTok to Oracle, the US cloud computing company, and Walmart. But the potential transaction never went through.

CFIUS staff and TikTok continued to broker a deal that would allow the app to work in America. TikTok submitted a major draft of an agreement — which TikTok called Project Texas — in August. As part of the proposal, the company said it would store data belonging to US users on server computers operated by Oracle in the United States.

TikTok officials have not heard from CFIUS officials since submitting their proposal, the company said.

In this vacuum, concerns about the app have intensified. States, schools and Congress have enacted bans on TikTok. Last year, a company investigation revealed that Chinese employees of ByteDance had access to the data of American TikTok users, including journalists.

Brendan Carr, a Republican on the Federal Communications Commission, said the administration’s new request was a “good sign” that the White House was taking a tougher line.

“There is a bipartisan consensus that we cannot compromise on the national security of the United States as it relates to TikTok, and so I hope the CFIUS review will be completed quickly in a way that protects American interests,” Carr said.

The White House backed a bipartisan Senate bill last week that would give it more power to deal with TikTok, including banning the app. If passed, the legislation would give the administration more leverage in its negotiations with the app and potentially allow it to force a sale.

Any attempt to ban the app or force its sale could be subject to legal challenge. Federal courts ultimately ruled against Mr. Trump’s attempt to block the app from appearing in Apple and Google’s app stores. And the American Civil Liberties Union recently condemned the legislation to ban the app, saying it raised concerns under the First Amendment.


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