Last month, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) opened a national security investigation on the Chinese company that owns TikTok. Globally popular video-streaming platform TikTok boasts more than 100 million downloads in the United States.
On the popular short-video app, where people are continuously churning through images and sounds creating content, the inquiry solidified on the issues of law, politics and national security. The TikTok drama is about the conflict and breach of privacy, which often lead to national security concerns of the U.S.
Launched in 2017, TikTok has been downloaded more than billion times and has more users than Twitter and Snapchat. Undeniably, this app has intertwined the issues of free speech, data privacy and cyber security across the world. From aggressively courting influencers and clickbaity images, even the experts have a trouble to find the optimal balance of technological openness and interdependence.
Although, tracing the fuss over TikTok, which started with the acquisition of the U.S. video sharing platform Musical.ly, the CFIUS launched an investigation on TikTok as there were evidences regarding removal of content which was against the “Chinese Government and Communist Party directives.”
In the investigation, concerns regarding the collection of user’s personal data and the censorship practices are raised by the CFIUS. In 2018, CFIUS also blocked Chinese firm Ant Financial’s bid to acquire U.S. payments company MoneyGram due to the fear of privacy breach and blackmailing of the users by the app.
This wave of panic is justified, according to the recent CFIUS interventions which suggested that China government is building a massive database on American citizens. Also, TikTok’s censorship for Beijing, concretizes the contested concerns of U.S. regarding data handling. Upholding the functioning of American democracy, officials are sensitized to the risk of foreign interference in the U.S. information environment. Through this step, CFIUS tends to send a message that a threat to America’s security can damage the Chinese company’s access to the U.S. market. This episode of surveillance investigation by CFIUS will be much bigger than just TikTok and bring other social media companies into scrutiny as well.