The US government has opened a national security investigation into Chinese-owned video app TikTok, the New York Times reported on Friday.
The report, citing anonymous sources, said that the review by an intergovernmental panel might be looking into whether the app, popular for its music videos, was sending data to China.
The investigation is led by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CFIUS), a government panel that reviews acquisitions in the US by foreign companies, the New York Times said.
The news came after lawmakers called for a review of the national security risks of TikTok, warning that it could be used for spying by Beijing.
A review could look into the 2017 acquisition of TikTok, which at the time was known as Musical.ly, by Beijing-based ByteDance.
The deal gave the Chinese company the app, which has been popular with youth for homemade karaoke videos and which now has an estimated 500 million users worldwide.
US Senator Marco Rubio hailed the news about the review.
“Last month I asked @USTreasury to conduct a CFIUS review of @tiktok_us,” Rubio said on Twitter. “Because any platform owned by a company in #China which collects massive amounts of data on Americans is a potential serious threat to our country.”
US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Tom Cotton last week suggested that ByteDance could be forced to share user information with Chinese intelligence.
“With over 110 million downloads in the US alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore,” the two senators said in a letter to Acting US Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire.
The senators also warned that TikTok could potentially be used to influence voters in next year’s US presidential election in the same way Russians manipulated US social media in the 2016 campaign.
TikTok said that it could not comment on any regulatory matter, but added that it “has made clear that we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the US.”
Last week, TikTok sought to distance itself from China, saying: “We are not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government.”
The company’s data centers are outside of China and “none of our data is subject to Chinese law,” it said.
The US Department of the Treasury, which coordinates CFIUS reviews, said that it could not comment on whether or not a review was in the works.
“By law, information filed with CFIUS may not be disclosed by CFIUS to the public,” a department spokesman said.
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