Thursday, March 16, NBC News reported that the Biden administration has threatened to ban TikTok in the United States unless the Chinese owners of the video-sharing platform sell their stakes in it, according to a source familiar with the matter. However, the source cautioned that the company doesn’t consider this a final decision.
Talks between TikTok and US government officials have been ongoing for years. The administration’s demand, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, marks a significant change in the American approach towards ByteDance Ltd., the Beijing-based company that owns TikTok.
No comments were received on this matter from either the White House or the Treasury Department.
According to a statement made by a TikTok representative, an ownership change would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access, and the best way to address national security concerns is through “transparent US-based protection of US user data and systems with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification.” They further stated that if the objective is to protect national security, divestment would not be an effective solution.
If ByteDance were to indeed divest, it would require approval from the Chinese government.
During a regular news briefing Thursday, a spokesperson from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Wang Wenbin, stated that the US had not presented any evidence to support their claim that TikTok poses a threat to national security. Wenbin urged the US to “stop spreading false information on the issue of data security” and to provide an open, fair, and non-discriminatory business environment for all countries’ enterprises to invest and operate in America.
Last week, TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said the Biden administration could already oversee the app through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews foreign investments for national security concerns and is run by the Treasury Department. This demand from the administration follows their endorsement of a bipartisan bill in Congress that allows the federal government to regulate and potentially ban technology produced abroad, including TikTok.
TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, is scheduled to appear before Congress next week.
In December of last year, Biden signed a bill into law that prohibits TikTok on government devices. The Biden administration has faced criticism from Republicans regarding its approach to addressing security concerns related to TikTok. These criticisms intensified last month when some GOP critics attempted to link the app to a suspected Chinese spy balloon that crossed the United States.
Those who oppose a potential TikTok ban have argued that prohibiting the app from US phones is not a sufficient solution to data security concerns.
In the last year of his presidency, Donald Trump attempted to ban TikTok downloads, but the Commerce Department eventually retracted its decision following a lawsuit.