TikTok, the mini-video sharing app based in China, is currently being investigated by the US Department of Defense as a potential threat to national security. The company acquired American media app Musical.ly in 2018, and the merger has raised several eyebrows in the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). The committee has the power to investigate financial and trade acquisitions by foreign companies. The purchase of Muscial.ly by TikTok’s parent company ByteDance never applied for nor received clearance. If the CFIUS finds any questionable practices in the acquisition, ByteDance may need to split both companies or get rid of TikTok entirely.
More Recent Interventions
The CFIUS has taken its charge to protect American interests seriously since the ongoing trade war with the largest economy of the far east heats up. In March, the committee intervened in a potential acquisition of the dating app Grindr by Chinese tech company Kunlun. CFIUS defended its decision to squelch the deal, citing the purchase as a potential threat to national security since foreign interests owned Kunlun.
Censorship A Notable Concern
TikTok’s close relationship with the Chinese government was the initial push for the acquisition to come under investigation by the CFIUS. While the company is formally based within the US, with all its data stored here and its backups in Singapore, the governmental body is still concerned with the company’s autonomy. The company’s moderation guidelines have stated tell-tale censorship of any mention of Tiananmen Square and the question to Taiwanese independence, causing US regulators to take notice of the business’ China-friendly practices.
Tiktok, in response to the allegations, lashed out, stating that the regulations that they institute are written locally to deal with censorship laws in individual states. The went on to indicate that they have never been asked to remove content by the Chinese government and that no foreign government influences their business decisions. Despite these boisterous claims, it is essential to note that ByteDance operates a company within China called Douyin, which is remarkably similar to TikTok’s interface and offers identical content creation tools.