Given TikTok’s massive success in the U.S., you may not know that a Chinese company actually owns the social media app — a fact that led two senators to call for an investigation into the video platform on Oct. 23.
In a letter sent to U.S. intelligence officials, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), both of whom are considered senior members of Congress, expressed concern over TikTok’s data collection methods and possible subjection to China’s strict censorship rules.
"With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore," the senators wrote. "Given these concerns, we ask that the Intelligence Community conduct an assessment of the national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-based content platforms."
If you’re a fan of the app, here are a few things you should know about the controversy.
A TikTok investigation could add to the growing tensions between the U.S. and China.
In the days following the release of the senators’ letter, TikTok leaders made an effort to distance themselves from ByteDance, their Chinese parent company, and dispute a few of the alarming claims floating around the internet.
"We store all TikTok U.S. user data in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore," an unsigned blog post on the company's website states. "Our data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law."
On a similar note, TikTok adds that it "does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China. We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period."
The statement continues, "We are not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government; TikTok does not operate in China, nor do we have any intention of doing so in the future."
As it turns out, China already has its own version of TikTok called Douyin, which is also developed by ByteDance. WIRED reports that TikTok is keen to keep the two apps independent of each other, with one representative asserting, "They're separate apps, markets, users, content, teams, policies, etc."
A third U.S. senator raised doubts about ByteDance’s business practices.
Just two weeks before Sens. Schumer and Cotton shared their thoughts on the subject, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) asked that the Committee on Foreign Investment investigate the technology company’s 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly, an app that later merged with TikTok.
The former presidential candidate explained the motive behind his request in a series of tweets on Oct. 9. "Ample & growing evidence exists that TikTok’s platform for western markets, including the U.S., are censoring content in line with #China’s communist government directives," Rubio wrote.
"[I have] already formally asked [the] Trump administration to fully enforce anti-boycott laws that prohibit any U.S. person — including U.S. subsidiaries of Chinese companies from complying with foreign boycotts seeking to coerce U.S. companies to conform with #China’s government views."
There’s no word yet on how the potential investigations could impact users, so your lip-sync videos are safe... for now.