US lawmaker calls for vetting of TikTok's deal

October 10, 2019 09:24
There is growing evidence that TikTok in the United States is censoring content that is "not in line” with the Chinese government, Senator Marco Rubio said. Photo: Bloomberg

US Senator Marco Rubio asked a US national security panel to review TikTok owner Beijing ByteDance Technology Co. Ltd.’s acquisition of, arguing TikTok is used by the Chinese government to censor politically sensitive content, Reuters reports.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Wednesday, Rubio said Chinese-owned apps “are increasingly being used to censor content and silence open discussion on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese Government and Communist Party”.

The Treasury secretary heads the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which reviews mergers and stock purchases to ensure they do not harm national security. Treasury said it does not comment on specific cases.

Rubio said there was growing evidence that TikTok in the United States was censoring content that is “not in line” with the Chinese government.

China “is using these apps to advance their foreign policy and globally suppress freedom of speech, expression, and other freedoms that we as Americans so deeply cherish”, Rubio said.

A US TikTok spokeswoman said the company stores all of its US user data in the US. 

“The Chinese government does not request that TikTok censor content, and would not have jurisdiction regardless, as TikTok does not operate there,” she added.

ByteDance is one of China’s fastest-growing startups. It owns the country’s leading news aggregator, Jinri Toutiao, as well as TikTok, which has attracted celebrities like Ariana Grande and Katy Perry along with legions of US teenagers.

The company’s Chinese ownership and sudden spike in popularity have raised concerns among US lawmakers.

Congress cannot compel CFIUS to review individual cases, but the powerful committee does have jurisdiction to review deals that were not previously flagged to CFIUS by the parties involved.

ByteDance bought for nearly US$1 billion in December 2017. It later shuttered and moved users to a revamped version of its own TikTok app, which serves non-Chinese markets., released in 2014, and TikTok, launched in 2016, both enable users to create and share short singing and dancing videos that are set to well-known songs, with numerous special effect filters.

The company’s original app Douyin is similar to TikTok but is only available in China and complies with local censorship requirements.

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