Senators Call for TikTok Investigation Over Chinese Espionage Concerns

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Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Tom Cotton fear a "potential counterintelligence threat" from the popular video-sharing app.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Tom Cotton have asked U.S. intelligence officials to look into security risks posed by the Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok, as stated in a letter addressed to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire on Wednesday.

“With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” wrote Schumer and Cotton in the letter.

They went on to voice their concerns that the app — which is owned by Chinese technology company ByteDance — could be used for intelligence-gathering and foreign influence campaigns by the Chinese Communist Party, which controls the country’s government. “Without an independent judiciary to review requests made by the Chinese government for data or other actions, there is no legal mechanism for Chinese companies to appeal if they disagree with a request,” they continued.

The letter also raises alarms about the possible “censorship or manipulation of certain content” on the platform, pointing to recent media reports that TikTok removes materials “deemed to be politically sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party,” including any content related to the recent protests in Hong Kong as well as references to Tiananmen Square, Tibetan and Taiwanese independence and the treatment of the country’s embattled Uighur minority.

On Thursday (Oct. 24), TikTok released a lengthy statement that attempts to refute the senators’ allegations by noting the app stores its user data entirely outside of China and is therefore not “subject to Chinese law.” It further notes that TikTok has “a dedicated technical team focused on adhering to robust cybersecurity policies, and data privacy and security practices” and that it does not remove content based on political sensitivities to the Chinese government.

“We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period,” the statement reads. “Our U.S. moderation team, which is led out of California, reviews content for adherence to our U.S. policies — just like other U.S. companies in our space. We are not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government; TikTok does not operate in China, nor do we have any intention of doing so in the future.”

TikTok has been the subject of increased scrutiny on multiple fronts as of late. Earlier this month, the National Music Publishers’ Association (NMPA) called on Congress to investigate the app over potential copyright theft. That move followed Sen. Marco Rubio’s prior request for an investigation into the company by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). 

This story first appeared on Billboard.com.