The Biden administration has demanded that TikTok’s Chinese owners hand over their stake in the popular video app or face a US crackdown, the company told Reuters on Wednesday.
The move is the most dangerous in a series of recent steps by US officials and lawmakers who have raised concerns that TikTok’s US data could be handed over to the Chinese government. ByteDance-owned TikTok has over 100 million American users.
This is the first time under the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden, a ban on TikTok has been threatened. Biden’s predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, tried to stop TikTok in 2020 but was blocked by US courts.
TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter told Reuters the company had recently heard from the US Treasury-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which required the app’s Chinese owners to sell it. their shares, and said they would face a possible US ban on the video software.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the move. ByteDance confirmed that 60% of its shares are owned by global investors, 20% by employees and 20% by founders.
CFIUS, a powerful organization of national security, unanimously recommended in 2020 that ByteDance dismiss TikTok. Under the pressure of President Trump at the time, ByteDance at the end of 2020 unsuccessfully tried to complete a deal with Walmart and Oracle Corp to transfer the assets of TikTok US to a new company.
“If the protection of national security is the objective, the use does not solve the problem: a change in ownership will not provide new restrictions on data or access,” the said Tiktok’s Oberwetter in a statement.
The White House declined comment.
The CEO of TikTok Shou Zi Chew should appear before the US Congress next week. It was not clear whether the Chinese government would accept any dismissal and the Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last month, the White House gave government agencies 30 days to ensure that they did not find TikTok on federal devices and systems. More than 30 US states have also banned employees from using TikTok on government equipment.
Any US ban faces legal and political challenges, since TikTok is popular among millions of young Americans.
Last week, Democratic Senator Mark Warner said that it is important for the US government to explain what it believes to be the national security risks from TikTok. “It will be incumbent on the government to show its cards in terms of a threat,” Warner said.
TikTok and CFIUS have been negotiating for more than two years on security issues. TikTok says it has spent more than $1.5 billion on data protection efforts and denies spying allegations.
TikTok said on Wednesday that “the best way to address national security concerns is transparent, US-based protection of US data and applications, including surveillance, verified, and unverified.”
Last week, the White House backed legislation by ten senators to give the administration new powers to ban TikTok and other foreign-based technologies if they threaten national security. country. It could give the Biden administration new weapons in court if they try to ban TikTok.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan praised the two bills, saying “it will strengthen our ability to address threats posed by individual trafficking, and emergencies caused by certain areas of trade that affect countries of concern in sensitive areas of technology.”
The Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives this month voted along party lines on a broad bill related to Tiktok, sponsored by Republican Representative Michael McCaul, which Democrats said it will require the authorities to effectively ban TikTok and other subsidiaries of ByteDance.
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