Sen. Marco Rubio
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., will ask U.S. authorities to investigate the 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly by TikTok, accusing the China-based app of censorship.
Rubio announced his plans in a tweet on Wednesday, saying he would ask the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to look into the deal.
“Ample & growing evidence exists that TikTok’s platform for western markets, including the U.S., are censoring content in line with #China‘s communist government directives,” Rubio wrote. In another tweet, he said he’s already asked the Trump administration “to fully enforce anti-boycott laws that prohibit any U.S. person — including U.S. subsidiaries of Chinese companies from complying with foreign boycotts seeking to coerce U.S. companies to conform with #China‘s government views.”
The statement comes as the relationship between China and U.S. corporations is under a microscope. The National Basketball Association became embroiled in an international dispute after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted a message in support of anti-Chinese government protests in Hong Kong over the weekend. While the NBA initially released a statement saying it had “great respect for the history and culture of China,” commissioner Adam Silver later said the NBA is not in the place to “adjudicate” between different viewpoints.
As of Wednesday, 11 of 13 Chinese businesses listed as official partners on the NBA China website have distanced themselves from the NBA, CNBC reported.
TikTok has quickly become one of the most popular social media apps worldwide, especially among Gen Z users. The app, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, features user-generated videos set to a variety of songs accessible through the app. Unlike other popular social media apps like Facebook-owned Instagram, TikTok’s feed of videos is not based on users following specific accounts, but rather relies more heavily on its algorithm to learn user interests.
The app was molded from ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly, a lip-syncing app developed in China that also had a large following in the U.S. At the time, TechCrunch reported that the deal was worth up to $1 billion. ByteDance ultimately folded Musical.ly’s brand into TikTok to reflect its wider range of content.
TikTok is not the only Chinese app that has gained traction among U.S. users. Apps developed by Chinese companies or those with large Chinese investors brought in revenues of $674.8 million in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2019, according to data previously compiled by Sensor Tower for CNBC. “PUBG Mobile” and “Clash of Clans,” two games made respectively by Chinese company Tencent and one of its subsdiaries, have also gained a large U.S. following.
TikTok recently announced it would not allow paid political ads on its platform, saying it did not fit into its overall experience. A U.S. investigation would add to government scrutiny from the U.K. which launched an investigation into whether TIkTok violated Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation.
TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment.