TikTok rejects calls for Chinese owners to divest in the United States

TikTok on Wednesday dismissed reports that the Biden administration was calling on its Chinese owners to sell their stakes in the popular video-sharing app, saying such a move would not 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 US ban on the app unless its owners, Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., were divested.

Maureen Shanahan, a spokeswoman for TikTok, said: “If protecting national security is the goal, divestment does not solve the problem: a change in ownership will not impose any new restrictions on data flow or access. The best way to address national security concerns is through protection.” Transparent and US-based user data and systems in the US, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we already implement.”

The Journal report cited anonymous people familiar with the matter. The Treasury Department and the White House National Security Council declined to comment.

Late last month, the White House gave all federal agencies 30 days to wipe TikTok from all government agencies.

The Office of Management and Budget called the guidance “a critical step forward in addressing the risks that the app poses to sensitive government data.” Some agencies, including the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and State, already have restrictions. The White House doesn’t actually allow TikTok to be used on its devices.

Congress passed the “Don’t Use TikTok on Government Devices Act” in December as part of a comprehensive government funding package. The legislation allows TikTok to be used in some cases, including for national security, law enforcement, and research purposes.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in both the House and Senate have been pushing ahead with legislation that would give the Biden administration more power to clamp down on TikTok.

Representative Mike McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, has been a vocal critic of the app, saying the Chinese Communist Party uses it to “manipulate and monitor its users while gobbling up Americans’ data for use in their malicious activities.”

“Anyone who has TikTok downloaded to their device has given CCP a backdoor to all their personal information. It’s a spy balloon in your phone,” said the Texas Republican.

TikTok is still very popular and used by two-thirds of teens in the US, but there are growing concerns that Beijing could gain control of US user data obtained by the app.

The company rejected the ban on federal devices and noted that it is developing plans for security and data privacy as part of the ongoing national security review of the Biden administration.

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