TikTok, one of the fastest-growing social media apps in the world, on Thursday denied allegations from top lawmakers that it operates at the behest of the Chinese government.
The company — which recently hired two former lawmakers to bolster its U.S. presence — denied in a blog post that it has ever removed content or shared data at China’s request.
“TikTok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China,” TikTok wrote. “We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) in a letter this week asked U.S. intelligence officials to assess whether TikTok, which is owned by a Chinese company, poses “national security risks.”
The TikTok app — which was downloaded 663 million times worldwide in 2018 and was the top-downloaded app for Apple and Google in September — does not operate in China, but the short-form video platform is quickly becoming a feared competitor to U.S. social media companies like Facebook and Twitter.
Over the past several months, TikTok has faced heat over reports that it censored content, including footage of the protests in Hong Kong, that angered the Chinese government, and also did not allow content promoting LGBTQ+ issues. The platform has insisted it retired those content moderation guidelines when the platform “took off” in May.
TikTok, which has typically declined to speak at length about its policies, has said it operates localized content moderation teams to create policies that make sense in different environments around the world.
“Our US moderation team, which is led out of California, reviews content for adherence to our US policies – just like other US companies in our space,” TikTok wrote in the post Thursday. “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.”
The company also emphasized that it stores “all TikTok US user data in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore.”
“None of our data is subject to Chinese law,” the company wrote.
In their letter earlier in the day, Schumer and Cotton raised concerns that TikTok may be adhering to Chinese censorship rules to limit what users can see, including the treatment of the minority Uighur population.
“Security experts have voiced concerns that China’s vague patchwork of intelligence, national security, and cybersecurity laws compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.
Amazon also faced scrutiny on Thursday related to its failure to secure its servers, which resulted in a breach that exposed the personal data of 100 million Americans, and lawmakers grilled Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday about his company’s new political ad policy.