The Biden administration wants TikTok’s Chinese parent company to divest itself of the popular social media platform, or it could face a possible nationwide ban, TikTok confirmed to CBS News on Wednesday. The Wall Street Journal said the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) had recently made the divestment request, and a TikTok spokesperson did not dispute that account.
The Treasury Department, of which CFIUS is a part, declined to comment. The White House and National Security Council also declined to comment.
“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem,” TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan told CBS News in a statement. “The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing.”
A spokesperson for TikTok also said it was not exactly clear what divestment would actually look like, and that concrete details on this were not provided to the company. It was not clear if the company was given any sort of deadline.
TikTok, which is owned by the Beijing-based ByteDance, has already been banned on federal government devices, including military devices, and more than half of U.S. states have banned the app on state government devices as well. There has been increasing bipartisan support for a full nationwide ban over possible national security concerns.
“TikTok is a modern-day Trojan horse of the [Chinese Communist Party], used to surveil and exploit Americans’ personal information,” Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in February. “It’s a spy balloon in your phone.”
China’s Foreign Ministry balked Thursday at the suggestion of a blanket U.S. ban on the app, with spokesperson Wang Wenbin telling reporters during a daily briefing that “the U.S. has so far failed to produce evidence that TikTok threatens U..S national security,” and calling on the American government to “stop unreasonably suppressing this company.”
In a letter to the CEOs of Apple and Google, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote in February, “Unlike most social media platforms, TikTok poses a unique concern because Chinese law obligates ByteDance, its Beijing-based parent company, to ‘support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work.'”
As CBS News has previously reported, TikTok, like many other tech companies, tracks users’ personal information, including phone numbers, email addresses, contacts and WiFi networks.
“We do have national security concerns,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said last year. “They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users.”
Michael Beckerman, TikTok’s head of public policy for the Americas, told CBS News in December that the concern was being overstated, but “makes for good politics.” He said TikTok collects less data than other social media apps and is working to move user data to servers in the U.S., out of the reach of China’s government.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee later this month. He is expected to face tough questions over the company’s data collection and sharing procedures.
— Caitlin Yilek, Scott MacFarlane and Kathryn Watson contributed to this report.