Two top U.S. senators are asking intelligence officials to investigate Chinese-owned TikTok, the hugely popular computer app, believing it to be a potential national security risk.
TikTok allows users to post short videos and share them online with other users.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican Tom Cotton sent a letter to acting national intelligence director Joseph McGuire saying there is a growing concern about TikTok.
TikTok servers are based in the U.S. and other countries where it is available. But it is owned by a the Beijing-based company ByteDance.
The senators said although TikTok informs its users up front that it collects data from them and their devices, the lawmakers are worried “about the potential for Chinese intelligence and security services to use Chinese information technology firms as routine and systemic espionage platforms against the U.S. and allies.”
Schumer and Cotton point out that foreign influence campaigns could use TikTok the same way they used social media platforms to influence the 2016 presidential election.
They also wrote that TikTok censors information sensitive to the Chinese authorities, including news on the Hong Kong protests, Chinese treatment of Muslims, and any reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
“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,” Schumer and Cotton wrote, pointing out that these companies have no independent judiciary they can turn to if they object.
A TikTok spokeswoman told Reuters that China does not have jurisdiction over TikTok because it is unavailable in China. She also denied allegations of censorship.
“TikTok is committed to being a trusted and responsible corporate citizen in the U.S., which includes working with Congress and all relevant regulatory agencies,” she said.