One of the most popular apps in the U.S. is being investigated as a national security threat

One of the most popular apps in the U.S. is being investigated as a national security threat
Back in April, we told you that the extremely popular social media app TikTok faced what the Peterson Institute for International Economics called a "Huawei-sized problem" in terms of security issues. For those of you who have been Rip Van Winkling your way through life, TikTok is an app that is used mostly by teens to produce short videos measuring 3 seconds to 15 seconds in length. TikTok offers a library of songs that can be added to these clips. Ironically, even though the app was created by a Chinese developer, it is not available in the country. According to data from Sensor Tower, in September the app was the most downloaded from the Google Play Store in the states, second most downloaded from the App Store, and second overall after Instagram. TikTok has 26.5 million monthly users in the states and 60% of them are in the 16-24 year old demographic.

What the Peterson Institute was referring to when it compared TikTok to Huawei is the app's potential to gather biometric and location data and send it to the communist Chinese government. TikTok is said to be popular with the U.S. military and there are some who fear that it will leak the aforementioned information along with images. Huawei has been placed on the U.S. Commerce Department's Entity List since May because of security issues, and its placement on the list prevents it from accessing its U.S. supply chain. Lawmakers fear that Huawei could be ordered to gather intelligence from corporations and consumers and send it to Beijing. The manufacturer has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Despite keeping U.S. generated data in the states, TikTok is a threat because it still follows Chinese laws


On Friday, Reuters reported that the U.S. government is investigating TikTok parent Beijing ByteDance Technology Company's purchase of Musical.ly. The latter was an app similar to TikTok and after the transaction closed two years ago, the apps were merged into one using the TikTok name. Sources cited by Reuters say that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has started looking into the deal. The agency reviews transactions where U.S. companies are purchased by foreign firms to make sure that there are no national security issues. While Musical.ly was originally founded in China, the company soon focused on the U.S. market and opened an office in Santa Monica, California. Since TikTok did not seek clearance from CFIUS when it merged with Musical.ly, the U.S. government says that it can still start an investigation even though the deal has closed.

Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) sent a letter last week to the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Macguire. In the letter, Schumer and Cotton requested that TikTok be the subject of a national security investigation. Some of the concerns mentioned by the Senators included the possibility that China is censoring images meant for U.S. viewers, and whether the app could be targeted by foreign countries looking to influence American users. Also discussed was the amount of user data collected by TikTok and who ultimately sees that information. Senator Schumer disseminated an email yesterday in which he wrote, "validation of our concern that apps like TikTok...may pose serious risks to millions of Americans and deserve greater scrutiny."


CFIUS is in talks now with TikTok about what the latter can do to avoid having to divest itself of Musical.ly's assets. In a statement, a TikTok spokesman said, "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."

Just as U.S. lawmakers are concerned that Huawei might be forced by the communist Chinese government to spy on its behalf, the same fears are behind the investigation of TikTok. While ByteDance says that all data generated by U.S. users is stored in the U.S., Senators Schumer and Cotton note that ByteDance (and thus TikTok) still has to follow China's laws.

TikTok is available from the Apple App Store, Google Play Store and the Amazon Appstore.

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29 Comments

1. alanrock

Posts: 326; Member since: Oct 04, 2018

nobody expects the Spanish inquisition ...

2. Papa_Ji

Posts: 873; Member since: Jun 27, 2016

Every country should ban each and every US companies and there products... They always use unfairand dirty means to stop growing companies. THERE ARE COUNTLESS PROOFS THAT ALL MAJOR US COMPANIES SHARE THE WHOLE WORLD DATA WITH US INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES WITHOUT PERMISSION.

6. Alex_12

Posts: 57; Member since: May 30, 2018

There is a difference. Chinese Communism doesn't care human rights or making the world better... They care only power same as Russia. Have you tried to immigrate to china??? Would you even want to live in China???

9. Nokfan1603

Posts: 67; Member since: Mar 13, 2013

I lived in China for four years. It is a good place. And contrary to other countries people are not brainwashed by propaganda that their country's wars abroad are about making the world better. Wake up and open your eyes.

12. JCDK1984

Posts: 7; Member since: Mar 11, 2019

And the US care about Human Rights? Is that why they tortured people on Gitmo? Why they support the Original ISIS (Saudi-Arabia)? Why they use racial profiling to send mainly Afro-Americans to prison? Yes, China and Russia have a real lack of Human Rights, but so does America. Honestly, right now I trust Russia and Putin, more than I trust Trump and America.

14. AlienKiss

Posts: 241; Member since: May 21, 2019

How can you trust Russia? Did you hit your head? Just imagine what is the LGBTQ community there going through. They're being hunted and sent to prison. Are those human rights? In china they have concentration camps for LGBTQ people. Funk them! I can't wait for the alien invasion! You all hate each other so much that you are hopeless.. You deserve to be invaded and force schooled! Evolve monkeys! Evolve!

19. inFla

Posts: 165; Member since: Aug 17, 2018

If you think its that bad you can always leave.

3. Zrtsg

Posts: 5; Member since: May 09, 2019

US must ban every non american company and separate itself from the rest of the world just like north korea.

11. Ashoaib

Posts: 3309; Member since: Nov 15, 2013

That's the best solution and it will surely make US safe.

4. D34ever

Posts: 236; Member since: Jul 14, 2018

I have never even heard of TikTok.

13. JCDK1984

Posts: 7; Member since: Mar 11, 2019

Right now TikTok is mainly an app for teenage boys who like to take off most of their clothes, trans people making videos of how hard it is to be trans and a hell of a lot of gay boys showing pride.

15. AlienKiss

Posts: 241; Member since: May 21, 2019

We have a problem mr racist?

29. PopeFrancis

Posts: 111; Member since: Aug 05, 2014

So are gender, age and sexual preference, races?

5. brady5371

Posts: 11; Member since: Oct 18, 2018

The US should place a 25% tariff on all Chinese products to include all smartphones! We should adopt the same product review/acceptance that the Chinese use! Fair is fair - right kids?

18. raky_b

Posts: 420; Member since: Jul 02, 2014

Yes you should. Why don't you? Oh yes, because US companies use cheap labour in China to make more profits for themselves, not caring about is there enough work places in their own country

7. TS020

Posts: 58; Member since: Feb 16, 2019

"Ironically, even though the app was created by a Chinese developer, it is not available in the country" China has its own version called douyin (抖音); it's the same app by the same company, just a different name.

8. Charlie2k

Posts: 151; Member since: Jan 11, 2016

Don't you come here running and ruin Alan's article now. Oh, guess you did. He also have forgotten that the ban on Huawei is not about national security, it's about trying to save Apple from Huaweis crushing blows to the head and stomach.

20. Alan01

Posts: 638; Member since: Mar 21, 2012

That's an interesting point of view not supported by any evidence whatsoever. Regards, Alan

23. AtomicBlaster unregistered

I think YOU might have gotten the crushing blow to the head instead of Apple. smh

16. Be_Mine

Posts: 299; Member since: Dec 29, 2013

Tiktok was also banned in India earlier this year for about a Week or two, because of its "Pornographic Contents and potential of exposing children to predators". But the Ban was later withdrawn after TikTok made some changes and also cracked down on NSFW content on its platform. Though I'm not sure if the changes are just for India or for everyone.

17. raky_b

Posts: 420; Member since: Jul 02, 2014

If they continue like that, Google's android (and apple's ios)will be must use in USA, with just apps made in USA,witch have backdoor for NSA... Rest of the world will be using free and clean of USA products, version of android. I mean, Chinese are not stupid....if you don't allow them to make and sell their own products around the world, they will not use your products...and they will go on their own in production of separate services which NSA will not have access to. Soon as the start doing that, Google will be falling down.

21. mootu

Posts: 1537; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

Why would the US ban Tick Tock?, it's a massive source of data for the NSA. Under the US Cloud Act 2018 any American Company or foreign company with a US based office must turn over any data stored in the cloud (ALL data is stored in the cloud) anywhere in the world to the US Gov if requested to do so. This law was sneaked through congress quietly in 2018 supported by Apple, Google, Microsoft etc and is far more dangerous and far reaching than China's data laws.

24. Subie

Posts: 2414; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

After doing my own reading about the US Cloud Act your comment comes across as conspiracy theory, fear mongering, conjecture. Yes, we should be concerned with how and when nations and companies "extradite" data just as we do with people. But concern does not mean that we should flat out oppose any legitimate request. The U.S. Cloud Act was just an amendment to already existing laws that have been in place since the eighties and there's a good reason why it passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate. As the world becomes a "smaller place" due to the digital age, amendment to existing laws as well as new laws are necessary. Changing laws to properly fit with the times is something all nations do, and must do.

25. mootu

Posts: 1537; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

"Yes, we should be concerned with how and when nations and companies "extradite" data just as we do with people. But concern does not mean that we should flat out oppose any legitimate request" The key words in your post are "legitimate request". Many US departments are well known for abusing FISA requests, the Cloud Act allows them to bypass even FISA courts. Also we see US senators such as Schumer, Rubio etc droning on about Chinese data laws when in reallity they are no different to US laws. The US bans Huawei because they could be compelled by the Chinese government to turn over data if asked and yet the Cloud Act does exactly the same, any company that has a US presence has to turn over data if compelled by the US Gov. How is it any different?

26. Subie

Posts: 2414; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

Turning over data requires a legal warrant or subpoena. In that way it's no different than it's always been. The new law was written to cover cloud based storage of data. "Chinese data laws when in reality they are no different to US laws" Chinese data laws and control over data ARE different and the subject of this article is proof. TikTok is not available in China for this very reason. TikTok and it's Chinese counterpart Douyin run separately and behave differently for this very reason. A quick Google search on the difference between the two apps will confirm that.

27. mootu

Posts: 1537; Member since: Mar 16, 2017

You may think they are different, but at the end of the day if either Government asks any company operating in their country to turn over data then they have no choice than to do so. This makes them no different, maybe different ways of going about it but with the exact same end result.

28. Subie

Posts: 2414; Member since: Aug 01, 2015

People fight the government over illegal instances of search and seizure all the time - and win. Actual guilty criminals, have been acquitted because authorities failed to use proper protocol before obtaining evidence. Does this happen in China. There are cases of companies resisting to help the government when requested. Most notably Apple refusing to help the FBI unlock a cell phone of a dead terrorist. Would that same public disobedience happen with a Chinese company in China.

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