(Bloomberg) — The Chinese-owned video application TikTok may be a national security threat to the U.S. and should be investigated, two key senators said in a letter to the acting director of national intelligence.
“TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a letter Thursday to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.
TikTok, owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, has been downloaded over 110 million times in the U.S. and its growing popularity creates “national security risks,” the senators wrote. Their concerns include the safety of data on the platform, potential censorship and possible foreign influence campaigns in the U.S., they said.
The letter is part of growing pressure on the U.S. government to investigate ByteDance and, more broadly, step up efforts to review the potential security threats of Chinese technology. Earlier this month, Republican Senator Marco Rubio wrote to the Treasury Department to ask for a national security investigation into ByteDance, the world’s largest startup with a valuation of $75 billion according to CB Insights.
Schumer and Cotton warned Thursday that China may compel TikTok to turn over the data it collects, which includes “user content and communications, IP address, location-related data, device identifiers, cookies, metadata, and other sensitive personal information.”
“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,” the senators wrote. Even though TikTok says that it operates outside China and keeps U.S data in the U.S., ByteDance must follow Chinese laws and turn over any data requested by the government, they added.
TikTok is a relatively rare example of a Chinese social media platform achieving global success. It is mostly known for lighthearted content — including lip syncing and dancing — uploaded by mostly teenage users. The app’s popularity showed signs of waning in the third quarter of the year, with global user-downloads falling 4% from a year earlier.