TikTok Dealt Blow as Democratic Senator Joins Calls to Ban App

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet urges Apple and Google to bar TikTok from their app stores

WASHINGTON—Another prominent Democrat has joined Republicans seeking to hobble TikTok, with Sen. Michael Bennet (D., Colo.) calling on Apple Inc. and Google to bar the Chinese-owned video platform from their app stores.

Republicans have been the most outspoken critics of TikTok, but in recent weeks, Democrat Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois joined with Republicans to sponsor legislation to ban TikTok outright. 

Sen. Bennet weighed in with a letter Thursday to Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and its parent company Alphabet Inc., saying TikTok is a national security risk because Chinese law compels companies to comply with any demands from Beijing linked to state intelligence operations.

“Beijing’s requirement raises the obvious risk that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) could weaponize TikTok against the United States,” wrote Sen. Bennet, an Intelligence Committee member. He said Beijing could demand data on U.S. users and require TikTok to “manipulate the content Americans receive to advance China’s interests.”

Executives with TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., say they wouldn’t turn over data on users or allow interference by the Chinese government. They have been on a campaign to convince U.S. officials that the popular video app with more than 100 million American users doesn’t pose a threat. 

“Unfortunately, Senator Bennet’s letter relies almost exclusively on misleading reporting about TikTok, the data we collect, and our data security controls,” TikTok said Thursday. “It also ignores the considerable investment we have made … to provide additional assurances to our community about their data security and the integrity of the TikTok platform.”

Sen. Bennet’s letter follows recent actions by both federal and state governments to bar TikTok from government-issued smartphones and other devices.

Mr. Krishnamoorthi’s proposed ban on TikTok is also backed by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.). Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) has his own legislation to ban TikTok.

In addition, Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.), the Senate Intelligence chairman, has been preparing legislation to curb and possibly ban apps including TikTok that are based in potentially hostile countries such as China. Rep. Michael McCaul (R., Texas), the House Foreign Affairs chairman, is exploring similar legislation. 

TikTok has been negotiating with U.S. officials for more than two years on measures aimed at preventing the Chinese Communist Party from influencing content on the site and collecting data on Americans.

They have proposed what they say is a $1.5 billion plan to revamp their operations to ensure that the site is independent, including creating a system for monitoring the secret algorithms that determine the content pushed to users. As part of that effort, TikTok said it would create a wholly owned subsidiary called TikTok U.S. Data Security, overseen by an outside board of directors, to safeguard data on the app.

The national-security panel that is reviewing the measure, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., has been debating for months whether to approve the deal, with Pentagon and Justice Department representatives on the panel among those skeptical that any measure short of divestiture by its Chinese owners will satisfy the concerns.

Congressional Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for delays and plan to use the newly created Select Committee on Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party to focus on the need to solve the TikTok issue.

But efforts in Congress to force a ban or sale of TikTok also face steep political hurdles, including the app’s huge popularity as well as existing U.S. laws that protect information exchanges, even with potentially hostile countries.  

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