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Tribune News Service
The Chinese owner of the popular TikTok video app spent a company record on federal lobbying in the second quarter as it fought allegations that it’s funneling Americans’ data to Beijing, according to lobbying disclosures filed with U.S. Congress.
Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd. spent $500,000 in the three months ended June 30, up from its previous record of $300,000 in the first quarter, according to the company’s lobbying disclosure Monday.
TikTok is responding to an onslaught of pressure from U.S. politicians over its Chinese roots — tension that has escalated in third quarter, including calls by President Donald Trump to consider banning the app entirely and proposed legislation to disallow downloads on government-issued mobile devices.
TikTok also faces a national security investigation into the 2017 purchase of Musical.ly, a lip-syncing app it later merged with TikTok, as well as a parallel probe by the administration, which could culminate within weeks, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters last week. The company has also attracted inquiries by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department over its data-collection practices, according to a consumer advocate who said he spoke to the enforcers about the company.
ByteDance, which was founded in China and is incorporated in the Cayman Islands, has repeatedly denied accusations that TikTok harvests data for the Chinese government and says it stores Americans’ data in the U.S. and Singapore, not in China.
More popular than ever with hundreds of millions of people stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic, teens have used the app to organize efforts to disrupt Trump’s re-election campaign.
TikTok also has become a political pawn in the fight between Washington and Beijing: Trump and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo have said a ban on TikTok could be one form of retaliation over China’s handling of the coronavirus.
The TikTok app has been downloaded 2 billion times globally, including 165 million times in the U.S., according to data provider Sensor Tower. That makes TikTok even more politically important as users weigh in on issues like race and the upcoming presidential election.
ByteDance, which only began lobbying last year, said in the filing that it worked on “issues related to internet technology and learning-enabled content platforms” and lobbied Congress and the executive office of the president, which includes key White House offices focused on economics and security.
It also lobbied on privacy and content moderation, according to a disclosure from Monument Advocacy, one of the company’s outside firms.
TikTok has been building up its lobbying muscle as it attempts to distance itself from its Chinese ties and convince American politicians that it’s just a fun-loving consumer app.
Former Walt Disney Co. executive Kevin Mayer became TikTok’s first American chief executive officer in June and the company earlier this month discussed plans to create a new global TikTok headquarters outside of China, in addition to potential changes to its management structure.
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