Surrounded by sharks: TikTok faces Senate attacks as investors eye it hungrily from Mashable

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Roiling uncertainty about TikTok‘s future and the powers of the federal government make this a vulnerable time for the social media giant. Even one Shark Tank billionaire is licking his chops and preparing a buyout offer. U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, think the app’s users might the ones be swimming with sharks.

On March 22, Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal and Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn officially called on the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to declassify information about the platform’s threat to national security and make the concerns known to the public.

“We are deeply troubled by the information and concerns raised by the intelligence community in recent classified briefings to Congress. TikTok is a weapon in the hands of the Chinese government, and poses an active risk to our democratic institutions and national security,” the Senators wrote. “As Congress and the Administration consider steps to address TikTok’s ties to the Chinese government, it is critically important that the American people, especially TikTok users, understand the national security issues at stake. We therefore urge you to declassify information about TikTok and ByteDance, and their ties to Chinese governments’ influence and espionage activities, to better educate the public on the need for urgent action.”

For the last week, various government leaders and members of the intelligence community have hinted at potentially damning information shared with them amid debate around TikTok’s ownership and its threat to American users. But for all the grandstanding, no specific information has been released, and other Senate and House members have clarified that they believe the security warnings presented to them apply across a slew of apps. Examples given included app permissions like keystroke tracking and microphone access — Senators like Blackburn and Blumenthal hint to greater “espionage” attempts.

The Senate body is deep in discussion on the Protecting Americans from Foreign Advisory Controlled Applications Act, a so-called national security effort to limit U.S. distribution of foreign country-owned apps that may pose cybersecurity concerns. The bill, passed by the House on March 13, has been decried as a violation of free speech and commerce protections by TikTok users and civil liberties leaders alike.

Should it pass another vote, the bill would force TikTok to divest from its parent company ByteDance in favor of ownership by an entity that isn’t a foreign adversary (read: non-Chinese).

In response to the House’s consensus and general confusion over the bill’s potential impact, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew took to the app to clarify his stance: “This legislation, if signed into law, will lead to a ban of TikTok in the United States. Even the bill sponsors admit that that’s their goal. This bill gives more power to a handful of other social media companies.” The platform’s official statement made sure to emphasize the “ban” language, as well, writing, “This process was secret and the bill was jammed through for one reason: it’s a ban. We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy, 7 million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service.”

TikTok’s pledge to muster its fired-up users like troops and to fight the legislation in court haven’t turned away potential investors, nor has the general consensus that ByteDance will choose not to sell off TikTok and instead tap out of the U.S. market.

Famed Canadian businessman Kevin O’Leary, known for his role as a cutthroat mogul on the hit business venture show Shark Tank, announced intent to purchase the platform just this week. O’Leary is putting together a syndicate and initial bid for $20 billion to $30 billion, a 90 percent cut to its $220 billion evaluation last year. In a conversation on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia, ” O’Leary said that he wouldn’t expect ByteDance to include its user algorithms or data in the sale, and instead would attempt to “re-emulate” them with U.S. code and government approval.

The “shark” said he had already met with controversial presidential hopeful Donald Trump about the potential purchase and is working to open the door with President Joe Biden soon.

“This is the most complex deal ever in social media, and I have to build a new algorithm,” said O’Leary. “It’s a very interesting deal, and I like it.”

The post Surrounded by sharks: TikTok faces Senate attacks as investors eye it hungrily from Mashable appeared first on Tom Bettenhausen’s.

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