The Biden administration is finally on board with what Republicans have been saying for years. The White House now demands that TikTok’s Chinese owners sell their shares in the app or risk a ban in the US.
Republicans and other US officials have long been concerned that Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd, which owns TikTok, will give up US user data to the Chinese government.
The company denies it would do so, but it has been unsuccessfully negotiating with security officials for over two years on policies to protect user data. Those negotiations are reportedly at a stalemate.
The app is already banned on US employees government-issued phones and as well as government employee phones in the European Union and, most recently, the UK.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS), a federal task force that oversees security risks in foreign investments, recently issued the sale demand, according to the Wall Street Journal.
TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter expressed the company’s disappointment in the ultimatum and said a forced sale ultimately does nothing to address security concerns.
“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,” she 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.”
TikTok says its pledged $1.5 billion security plan would isolate its US operations and store all relevant data in the US.
Those implementations do not assuage officials who cite China’s national security laws, which require all companies based there to turn over customer data on demand.
“Our intelligence community has been very clear about China’s efforts and intention to mold the use of this technology using data in a worldview that is completely inconsistent with our own,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.
The demand from CFIUS comes on the heels of a bipartisan Senate proposal that gives the Commerce Department the ability to ban foreign technology.
“This legislation would empower the United States government to prevent certain foreign governments from exploiting technology services operating in the United States in a way that poses risks to Americans’ sensitive data and our national security,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement of support for the legislation.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre did not reveal whether Biden intends to ban TikTok if the bill passes, but she did acknowledge the “concerns with this particular app”.