TikTok has surged in popularity over the past year, becoming not just a place for music mashups, but also short memes in the spirit of Vine. However, the rise of TikTok has also piqued the interest of federal officials, who are worried that the China-owned social media network could be storing user data improperly or censoring content.
ByteDance, a company based in China, acquired music mashup app Musical.ly in 2017 and renamed it to TikTok (replacing ByteDance's earlier TikTok app). ByteDance didn't seek approval for the purchase from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CIFUS), which normally reviews buyouts from foreign companies for national security risks, which means the group can conduct an investigation now.
The Committee's concerns are not publicly known at this time, but some government officials — including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio — are worried about TikTok's collection of user data, and whether the service censors content in the U.S. based on Chinese laws. TikTok previously had moderation guidelines that banned LGBTQ+ content.
Last month I asked @USTreasury to conduct a CFIUS review of @tiktok_us. Because any platform owned by a company in #China which collects massive amounts of data on Americans is a potential serious threat to our country.
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) November 1, 2019
A TikTok spokesperson told Reuters, "While we cannot comment on ongoing regulatory processes, TikTok has made clear that we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the U.S. Part of that effort includes working with Congress and we are committed to doing so."