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Senators call for assessment of TikTok's national security risks

"With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore," the senators wrote.
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Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., left, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., after a news conference on April 4, 2019.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

Two senators have formally requested an assessment of the short-form video app TikTok for national security risks the China-owned company could pose to the U.S.

Sens. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, and Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, sent a letter Wednesday to acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire asking him to assess TikTok and other China-based companies for potential security risks.

TikTok, a video app where users can record and posts videos of themselves — often lip syncing to songs or participating in viral challenges — is owned by the Chinese tech company Bytedance. It went by the name "" until ByteDance acquired the app in 2017 and rebranded it.

"Security experts have voiced concerns that China’s vague patchwork of intelligence, national security and cybersecurity laws compel Chinese companies to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party," the letter to Maguire states.

ByteDance says that TikTok does not operate in China and that it stores American user data in the U.S., but the press release claims that the company is still required to adhere to the laws of China.

The senators also took issue with TikTok's alleged manipulation of content, such as the reported censorship of issues and materials "deemed politically sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party." This includes "content related to the recent Hong Kong protests, as well as references to Tiananmen Square," the letter states.

Schumer and Cotton expressed concern that TikTok could be a potential target for a foreign influence campaign similar to the one launched on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms in the 2016 election.

"With over 110 million downloads in the U.S. alone, TikTok is a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore," the letter reads.

A spokesperson for TikTok said the company did not have any details on the request and that the company "is committed to being a trusted and responsible corporate citizen in the U.S., which includes working with Congress and all relevant regulatory agencies."