With just 97 days until the 2020 presidential election, ByteDance-owned video-sharing application TikTok is facing more scrutiny than ever from U.S. lawmakers and government officials, and rumors of a potential stateside ban are becoming increasingly prevalent.
The controversial app has long been the subject of privacy concerns, including from litigants, the government, and individuals in America and nations throughout the world. To be sure, the Indian government cited a desire to protect its citizens’ personal information when it banned TikTok (and 58 other Chinese apps) late last month – a move that prompted ByteDance to predict that it would suffer a $6 billion loss. Also on the international front, Japanese lawmakers recently floated the idea of banning TikTok because of its considerable security threat.
Domestically, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated earlier this month that the Trump administration is “looking at” a possible TikTok ban, and White House adviser Peter Navarro indicated that the federal government will take “strong action” on the app. 25 members of Congress also signed a letter urging President Trump to “take strong action to stop the CCP’s [the Chinese Communist Party’s] sophisticated espionage campaign against our country.”
Today, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confirmed that TikTok is formally under review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a Treasury-chaired committee that assesses the national security risks of foreign companies and investments. Plus, Secretary Mnuchin confirmed that the CFIUS will provide the president with an official recommendation pertaining to TikTok later this week.
In this vein, TikTok owner ByteDance is reportedly seeking an American buyer (or buyers) for the application, and sources with knowledge of the matter have revealed that current bids are valuing TikTok at a whopping $50 billion. At the time of this writing, TikTok and the companies that may be exploring an acquisition hadn’t commented publicly on the talks. Notably, Peter Navarro previously suggested that ByteDance’s selling the app to U.S. investors wouldn’t prevent a ban, in addition to calling the platform’s stateside CEO, Kevin Mayer, “an American puppet.”
Seemingly in response to this criticism, Kevin Mayer published an open letter this morning, and much of the approximately 800-word-long message addresses the government’s security-related criticism. “We believe it is essential to show users, advertisers, creators, and regulators that we are responsible and committed members of the American community that follows US laws,” wrote Mayer. “We will not wait for regulation to come, but instead TikTok has taken the first step by launching a Transparency and Accountability Center for moderation and data practices.”
More as this develops.