Despite continuing to transform the mobile media landscape, TikTok’s future has never looked less certain.
On Monday, Bloomberg Newsreported that TikTok’s Chinese owners are interested in selling a stake in the video-sharing app.
For parent company ByteDance, giving up some control in TikTok is perhaps a way to alleviate security concerns among U.S. policymakers, which currently represent a clear obstacle to growth.
In October, Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) requested that U.S. intelligence officials assess TikiTok’s U.S. presence, and the degree to which it poses a national security risk.
The request came just weeks after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) called for a formal investigation into the app, and the degree to which it is censoring politically sensitive content.
Rejecting Bloomberg’s story, ByteDance is insisting that it will retain full control of TikTok for the foreseeable future.
“There have been no discussions about any partial or full sale,” the Beijing-based company said in a statement.
Separately, sources tellThe Wall Street Journal that ByteDance might establish a headquarters for TikTok somewhere outside of China.
Again, the imagined rationale for such a move would be to help TikTok look less like a Chinese company in the eyes of U.S. leaders.
Sen. Schumer and other U.S. politicians make no secret about why they distrust TikTok and its parent company.
“It’s required to adhere to Chinese law,” Schumer said of the app, in October. “That means it can be compelled to cooperate with intelligence work controlled by China’s Communist Party.”
For his part, Sen. Rubio said he wanted a panel to determine the degree to which ByteDance is censoring politically sensitive content
Earlier this year, it emerged that TikTok has a history of censuring political dissenters in China.
According to internal documents obtained by The Guardian, the app had instructed content moderators to scrub mentions of Tiananmen Square, Tibetan independence, and other topics the Chinese government would rather not see discussed in a public arena.
In response, ByteDance insisted that the content guidelines obtained by The Guardian were dated, and no longer used by its moderators.
Taking on more established video-sharing platforms, TikTok has become one of the most downloaded offerings on Apple’s App Store.
Unless TikTok is sidelined by U.S. policymakers, analysts see the app as posing a real threat to more established players.Specifically, TikTok could challenge Snapchat, eMarketer principal analyst Debra Aho Williamson recently speculated.