TikTok was dismissive Wednesday of reports that the Biden administration was calling for its Chinese owners to sell their stakes in the popular video-sharing app, saying such a move wouldn’t help protect national security.
The company was responding to a report in The Wall Street Journal that said the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, part of the Treasury Department, was threatening a U.S. ban on the app unless its owners, Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., divested.
“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan said. “The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing.”
The WSJ report cited anonymous “people familiar with the matter.” The Treasury Department and the White House’s National Security Council declined to comment.
Late last month, the White House gave all federal agencies 30 days to wipe TikTok off all government devices.
The Office of Management and Budget called the guidance a “critical step forward in addressing the risks presented by the app to sensitive government data.” Some agencies, including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State, already have restrictions in place. The White House already does not allow TikTok on its devices.
Congress passed the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act” in December as part of a sweeping government funding package. The legislation does allow for TikTok use in certain cases, including for national security, law enforcement and research purposes.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in both the House and Senate have been moving forward with legislation that would give the Biden administration more power to clamp down on TikTok.
Rep. Mike McCaul, the chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, has been a vocal critic of the app, saying the Chinese Communist Party is using it to “manipulate and monitor its users while it gobbles up Americans’ data to be used for their malign activities.”
“Anyone with TikTok downloaded on their device has given the CCP a backdoor to all their personal information. It’s a spy balloon into your phone,” the Texas Republican said.
TikTok remains extremely popular and is used by two-thirds of teens in the U.S. But there is increasing concern that Beijing could obtain control of American user data that the app has obtained.
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.
Meanwhile, China accused the United States on Thursday of spreading disinformation and suppressing TikTok.
The United States has yet to present evidence that TikTok threatens its national security and was using the excuse of data security to abuse its power to suppress foreign companies, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters at a daily briefing.
“The U.S. should stop spreading disinformation about data security, stop suppressing the relevant company, and provide an open, fair and non-discriminatory environment for foreign businesses to invest and operate in the U.S.,” Wang said.
China has long been concerned about the influence of overseas social media and communications apps, and bans most of the best-known ones, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube — and TikTok.