Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) asked the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday to investigate Zoom, a video communications platform, and TikTok, a social media platform. The senators claimed that, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans were replacing in-person interaction with Zoom calls and binging on TikTok content; however, these companies have allegedly downplayed their connection with China.
“We believe that it is imperative that the Department of Justice investigate and determine whether Zoom and TikTok’s business relationships, data handling practices, and operational connections to China pose a risk to Americans,” the Senators wrote. Sens. Blumenthal and Hawley added, “[b]ased on numerous reports, we are extremely concerned that Zoom and TikTok have disclosed private information about Americans to the [People’s Republic of China] and engaged in censorship on behalf of the Chinese government.”
The senators also noted that “both Zoom and TikTok have failed to answer even basic questions about their business operations, including who has access to personal information and when they comply with request from China or other governments.”
Zoom is a California-based company, but has research and development centers in China. TikTok, owned by ByteDance which is based in Beijing, previously stated that it stores all data in the United States and has backups in Singapore. “Our content and moderation policies are led by our U.S.-based team in California and aren’t influenced by any foreign government,” TikTok said. “We’ve never shared TikTok user data with the Chinese government, and would not do so if asked.”
While Zoom has faced a litany of lawsuits and concerns regarding its privacy practices, few have raised the issue about the company’s connection to China. However, this is not the first time that people have been concerned about TikTok and its Chinese connection. Various government agencies have banned TikTok, including the TSA as well as the Navy and Army out of national security concerns. Members of Congress also sent letters to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and TikTok about their concerns relating to privacy violations and the platform’s ties to the Chinese Communist Party, respectively. Additionally, a class action lawsuit sued the social media platform for sending user data to China and a multitude of lawsuits are concerned about its use of biometrics.
In early July, the DOJ investigated TikTok with the FTC addressing concerns that TikTok violated a 2019 agreement.