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US opens national security review of ByteDance’s Musical.ly acquisition

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The United States has opened a national security review of TikTok’s parent ByteDance over its $1 billion acquisition of short video app Musical.ly, reports Reuters. ByteDance did not seek the clearance of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews foreign acquisition deals for potential national security issues. The review also stems in part from the committee’s fears that the Chinese government might have access to TikTok’s data and user profiles, according to a CNBC report.

US Senators raise national security and censorship concerns against TikTok

U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer and Tom Cotton, on October 24, had called for an assessment of national security risks posed by TikTok and other China-based content platforms operating in the US. They said that China’s vague patchwork of intelligence, national security, and cybersecurity laws compel Chinese companies such as ByteDance to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. The senators’ letter was addressed to Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.

“With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” the Senators had written.

“Questions have also been raised regarding the potential for censorship or manipulation of certain content. TikTok reportedly censors materials deemed politically sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party, including content related to the recent Hong Kong protests, as well as references to Tiananmen Square, Tibetan and Taiwanese independence, and the treatment of Uighurs,” the letter said. Schumer and Cotton further said that TikTok can be a potential target for foreign influence campaigns.

Before that, on October 9, Senator Marco Rubio had tweeted that he would urge CFIUS to review ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.y. “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,” his tweet read.

Similar concerns have been raised in India against TikTok and ByteDance

Concerns over ByteDance’s and TikTok’s potential ties with the Chinese government have also been raised in India. Multiple Parliamentarians have called for banning the app accusing it of spreading fake news and “causing ruptures in the fabric our society”. Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said that ByteDance, TikTok and Helo run a network of “paid influencers” and can “impact our democratic process”. RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch has called TikTok a threat to India’s national security.

In April, TikTok was banned in India by the Madras High Court, which said it was spreading pornography, potentially exposing children to sexual predators, and adversely impacting its the mental health of its users. The ban, however, was lifted on April 24.

The Election Commission of India (EC) had asked to meet TikTok officials, before the 2019 general elections, to talk about taking down content which violated its guidelines.

Go Deeper: Why they want TikTok banned in India

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