US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has raised questions about the US Army’s use of Bytedance short video app TikTok to recruit teenagers, citing potential privacy and national security risks, BuzzFeed News reported.

Why it matters: As one of the fastest-growing apps in the US, lawmakers are scrutinizing TikTok for its content filtering practices and potential security risks associated with Chinese company Bytedance’s ownership.

  • At the request of Senator Marco Rubio, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States on Nov. 2 opened a probe to investigate Bytedance’s acquisition of in 2017.
  • In October, Senators Schumer and Tom Cotton asked for a separate review of the potential national security risks posed by TikTok.
  • Republican Senator John Hawley held a congressional hearing on Nov. 5 to explore the privacy and security concerns posed by social platforms such as TikTok, though the company declined to attend.
  • Bytedance said it hasn’t and wouldn’t remove content even if requested by the Chinese government.

US senators call for national security probe of Bytedance’s TikTok

Details: In a letter to Army Secretary McCarthy dated Nov. 7, Schumer said that while he recognizes the need for the US Army to adapt its recruiting techniques to attract young Americans, it should do so after assessing the potential national security risks associated with Chinese-owned platforms such as TikTok.

  • In the letter, Schumer cited concerns about TikTok’s collection and handling of user data, such as user communication and location-related data, adding that China has laws that compel companies to support and cooperate with Chinese intelligence work.
  • Schumer asked whether the Army had consulted with the Department of Homeland Security about the national security risks TikTok and other Chinese-owned social media apps pose as platforms for recruitment.
  • Schumer also requested that the Army answer whether it had conducted an analysis of alternative recruiting platforms prior to opting for TikTok.

Context: While TikTok has repeatedly denied claims that it censors politically sensitive content, former employees of the company said otherwise.

  • Former employees said that they had to follow content filtering rules set by managers in Bytedance’s Beijing headquarters, who often ignored their requests not to block or penalize content deemed sensitive.
  • While some flagged videos were removed altogether, others were simply blocked from user feeds, according to the former employees.

Tony Xu is Shanghai-based tech reporter. Connect with him via e-mail:

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