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US launches national security review of Chinese-owned app TikTok: report

A U.S. government committee has launched a national security probe into TikTok, a massively popular video-sharing platform under scrutiny over its ties to China. 

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency body that deals with national security concerns stemming from transactions involving overseas companies, is reviewing Chinese firm Bytedance’s acquisition of U.S. app Musical.ly, Reuters reported

Two sources familiar with the investigation told the news outlet that the body has the scope to investigate the acquisition because TikTok did not initially seek clearance from CFIUS.

The Hill has reached out to the committee for comment.

News of the review comes after several top senators raised sharp concerns over a Chinese-owned company amassing a broad swath of U.S. user data.  

“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,” Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) wrote in a letter this month to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

Lawmakers and advocates have also suggested that TikTok may be censoring politically sensitive content, including information about pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) had called for a CFIUS review of TikTok specifically, claiming there is “ample and growing evidence” that the Chinese government censors content on the platform. 

“These Chinese-owned apps are increasingly being used to censor content and silence open discussion on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese Government and Communist Party,” Rubio wrote to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin last month. 

TikTok, which hosts short-form videos created by users, has skyrocketed in American markets recently, and was the top-downloaded app for Apple and Google in September.

ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, has braced itself for increased scrutiny as its popularity grows by bolstering its legal and content moderation teams.

It hired former Reps. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) and Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) last month and formerly registered to lobby in the U.S. in June.

“While we cannot comment on ongoing regulatory processes, TikTok has made clear that we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the U.S.,” a spokesperson told The Hill. 

“Part of that effort includes working with Congress and we are committed to doing so.”

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