The future of Tiktok in the U.S. was once again cast into doubt after a prominent U.S. lawmaker raised national security concerns, citing fears that user data from around 100 million Americans could be shared with Beijing.
On Thursday, Colorado Senator Michael Bennet joined a growing number of Democrats to take issue with the Chinese-owned company, calling on Apple and Google to remove the video platform from its app stores. Bennet—a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee—outlined his concerns in a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Alphabet Inc CEO Sundar Pichai.
“No company subject to CCP (Chinese Communist Party) dictates should have the power to accumulate such extensive data on the American people or curate content to nearly a third of our population,” Bennet wrote, referring to the millions of Americans who use the app regularly. “Given these risks, I urge you to remove TikTok from your respective app stores immediately.”
Bennet also warned that China’s government could compel TikTok to influence what U.S. users see on the app. “Beijing’s requirement raises the obvious risk that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could weaponize TikTok… [to] manipulate the content Americans receive to advance China’s interests,” Bennet wrote.
Leaders across the U.S. political spectrum say they are concerned that Chinese internet technology company ByteDance, which owns TikTok, is required by Chinese law to make TikTok data available to the CCP.
In December, a counter-surveillance bipartisan bill was introduced to Congress that could result in a nationwide ban of the app. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is due to hold a vote this month on the bill.
TikTok has already been banned from federal government devices and some college campuses have restricted access to the app on school devices and WiFi servers.
Republicans had previously been the most ardent critics of the app, with the Trump administration’s unsuccessful attempt to outlaw it alongside another Chinese app, WeChat, in September 2020. But the move was twice blocked by the courts who said Trump officials “acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner by failing to consider obvious alternatives” for the app.
More recently, Democrats such as Senator Dick Durbin have also called on Americans to boycott the app.
A blanket ban would also leave U.S. content creators without access to ad revenue on the platform or its Creator Fund, which allows them to monetize their videos if they have at least 10,000 followers and 100,000 views in a 30-day period.
TikTok users are paid according to how many followers they have on the app. It is estimated that content creators with 100,000 followers or more can get paid $200 to $1,000 a month. Meanwhile, creators with 1 million or more followers can get paid $1,000 to over $5,000 a month.
TikTok has been in confidential negotiations with the Biden administration’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, for two years now. The company also presented a 90-page proposal in August on how it would prevent the Chinese government from having access to this data by storing it on domestic servers on American-owned software, the New York Times reported.
Additionally, TikTok’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, has this month been meeting with think tanks and interested groups in Washington to share how the company plans to prevent data collection from its American users. Zi Chew is set to appear before a House committee in March to discuss TikTok’s data security practices.
It is currently unclear how much weight Bennet’s letter will carry among the technology giants he has called on, but with pressure mounting from all sides, the app store owners are paying attention.