New Delhi: The United States has threatened to impose a ban on the social media platform TikTok unless its Chinese owners divest their stakes in it, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. The move, driven by fears that user data of the US held by the company could be passed on to the Chinese government, comes amid a global backlash against the social media platform over the concerns of potential Chinese spying. Countries including the UK, Canada, and Australia recently moved to ban the app from government phones.
Although the US has already banned TikTok on government devices this is for the first time under the administration of Joe Biden that the ban on the video-based app has been threatened. The social media platform had recently heard from the US Treasury-led committee on foreign investment in the United States (CFIUS), which demanded that the Chinese owners of the app sell their shares, and said otherwise they would face a possible US ban on the video app, TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter told Reuters.
According to the Journal said 60% of ByteDance shares are owned by global investors, 20% by employees, and 20% by its founders. CFIUS, a powerful national security body in 2020 had unanimously recommended that ByteDance divest TikTok, as reported by The Guardian.
“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access,” Tiktok’s Oberwetter said in a statement, as quoted by The Guardian. TikTok and CFIUS have been negotiating for more than two years on data security requirements. TikTok has denied spying allegations, saying that the company has spent more than $1.5bn on rigorous data security efforts.
TikTok said on Wednesday that “the best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification”, as quoted by The Wall Street Journal.
The news of a potential US ban followed reports this week that Britain is moving forward with its own plan to ban TikTok on government cellphones. The announcement of a potential ban could come as early as Thursday, the Guardian citing sources. It also reported that some experts were calling for Britain to increase the ban to cover personal phones of officials and ministers.
Talks of restrictions have increased in recent weeks after news of the Chinese spy balloon that was found hovering over the US. This prompted a US congressional committee to move forward with legislation that would empower the US president to ban the app. Michael McCaul, a GOP congressman and chair of that committee, said he feared TikTok was akin to “spy balloon in your phone”.
Earlier this month, TikTok announced a data security plan that said would protect user information across Europe. The plan, called Project Clover, includes storage of data on servers in Ireland and Norway, with a third-party IT company vetting any transfers of data outside of Europe.