The Biden administration has threatened to ban TikTok in the US if the social media company’s Chinese owners do not divest their stakes in it.
The move is driven by fears that US user data held by the company could be passed on to China’s government. It also comes amid a global backlash to TikTok over concerns about the potential for Chinese spying, with countries including the UK, Canada and Australia recently moving to ban the app from government phones.
The US has already banned TikTok on federal government devices but this marks the first time under Biden’s administration that a potential nationwide ban on TikTok has been threatened.
Any US ban would face significant legal hurdles. Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, had tried to ban TikTok in 2020 but was blocked by the courts.
A TikTok spokesperson, Brooke Oberwetter, told Reuters that the company had recently heard from the US Treasury-led committee on foreign investment in the United States (CFIUS), which demanded that the Chinese owners of the app sell their shares, and said otherwise they would face a possible US ban of the video app.
The move comes as TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, is due to appear before the US Congress next week.
TikTok and CFIUS have been negotiating for more than two years on data security requirements. TikTok said it has spent more than $1.5bn on rigorous data security efforts and rejects spying allegations.
TikTok said on Wednesday, March 15, that “the best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification”.
Meanwhile, China has accused the US of spreading disinformation and suppressing TikTok.