Chinese app TikTok under investigation by US government panel over censorship and security concerns

The investigation was spearheaded by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. (Source: FlipBoard)
The investigation was spearheaded by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. (Source: FlipBoard)
Popular video app TikTok was purchased by Chinese company ByteDance Technology Co. in 2017 and has since accumulated over 500 million active users. However, ByteDance has recently been placed under investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) over concerns over its handling of the personal data of its 25 million American users as well as its apparent censorship over content incongruent with the Chinese state's version of reality, including strife in Hong Kong and pro-LGBT content.

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TikTok is a relatively new video-sharing social media app that has grown quickly in its two-year lifespan to roughly 500 million active users. The app, originally American-owned, was bought out in 2017 by Chinese firm ByteDance, and has since taken its place in the modern internet's halls of memery: Notable YouTuber PewDiePie's many videos showcasing the most ridiculous memes of the app have anywhere from 9 to over 14 million views.

Concerns over the Chinese state’s general “global propaganda campaign” have been voiced for years, though they have become more urgent recently, with more scrutiny falling upon individual companies and apps as a result. According to an exclusive Reuters report November 1st, the US government has initiated an investigation into the 2017 US$1 billion acquisition deal of ByteDance Technology Co of TikTok over national security concerns. The public’s case for concern over the app started with the September reveal that the app's moderation guidelines explicitly censoring pro-LGBT content or anything deemed sensitive to China's ruling Communist Party, including references to ongoing pro-democracy protests and effective martial law in Hong Kong, the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, and other human rights violations in Tibet and Xinjiang.

Though TikTok has claimed they "have never been asked by the Chinese government to remote any content" in response to questions regarding the suspicious lack of any footage of the strife in Hong Kong, such a statement does little to assuage concerns they are voluntarily censoring content and collecting American users' data, which is within arms reach of the Chinese government due to the considerable power enjoyed by the state over all companies operating within their borders, including foreign-owned ones.

The legal basis for the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United Status (CFIUS) stems from the fact that TikTok never sought clearance from CFIUS for the 2017 deal, which allows the panel to investigate ByteDance's acquisition now.

A poignant editorial from the Washington Post penned November 2nd voiced concern over the apparent ongoing export of the Chinese Government's sanitized version of reality. Per the Washington Post, "U.S. companies are largely unable to operate in China on their own terms, if they're able to operate there at all. Yet the relationship isn't reciprocal: China seeks to stretch its arms as far as possible and squeeze."

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2019 11 > Chinese app TikTok under investigation by US government panel over censorship and security concerns
Douglas Black, 2019-11- 5 (Update: 2019-11- 5)
Douglas Black
Douglas Black - News Editor
Douglas Black is a technology analyst, teacher, writer, and DJ. He is also Managing Editor of UltrabookReview.