The Biden administration is reportedly demanding that TikTok be sold by its Chinese owners or risk facing a ban across the U.S.
The move is an escalation in federal officials’ efforts to address national security concerns about the social media company’s owner, ByteDance, which is headquartered in Beijing. TikTok, a popular short-form video app, is used by more than 100 million Americans, driving concerns about the company’s links in China and its handling of user data.
The development was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which cited sources familiar with the matter. TikTok spokespeople confirmed the reporting to several news outlets.
TikTok is “disappointed in the outcome,” a spokesperson told NPR of the apparent ultimatum.
TikTok has been negotiating for more than two years with the Committee on Foreign Investment or CFIUS, a committee made up of officials from multiple government agencies, including the Departments of Treasury, Justice, Homeland Security, Defense and Commerce, in an effort to reach a deal that could allow TikTok to continue operations in the U.S. with stronger safeguards to protect against cybersecurity and privacy risks.
TikTok argued that CFIUS’s demand would not solve U.S. officials’ data concerns.
“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 spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement. “The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing.”
TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, is scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week.
Earlier this month, lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill that would empower the Biden administration to ban technologies sourced from foreign adversaries from operating in the U.S. if they present a threat to national security, effectively paving the way for a potential ban on TikTok.