TikTok’s Chinese Owner Spent Record-High $2.14 Million on Lobbying

By Frank Fang
Frank Fang
Frank Fang
journalist
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers US, China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.
July 22, 2022 Updated: July 22, 2022

TikTok’s parent company in China, ByteDance, spent $2.14 million on lobbying the U.S. government in the second quarter, according to a federal lobbying disclosure report made public on July 20.

That amount was an increase of 130 percent from the previous quarter, when the Beijing-based company spent $930,000 on lobbying in the United States. For the entire year of 2021, ByteDance spent over $4.7 million on lobbying, according to a federal database.

ByteDance’s lobbying effort targeted the Executive Office of the President, the Department of Commerce, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Senate, and the House, according to the report.

Legislation

The report said ByteDance lobbied on a variety of issues related to “internet technology and learning-enabled content platforms,” including several pieces of U.S. legislation. One of the U.S. bills it lobbied on was the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA), a bill that was passed by the Senate with a partisan vote of 68–32 in June last year.

The USICA, which aimed to boost U.S. competitiveness, particularly the nation’s semiconductor industry, drew Beijing’s ire. The Chinese Embassy in Washington reportedly threatened U.S. companies that they would lose market share in China if the bill became law.

Other pieces of legislation ByteDance lobbied on were the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, the America COMPETES Act of 2022, the National Defense Authorization Act for the fiscal year 2022, and No TikTok on Department of Homeland Security Devices Act.

The last bill on the aforementioned list was introduced by Rep. Michael Guest (R-Miss.) in February. If enacted, DHS employees would need to remove TikTok from any of the department’s devices in 60 days, according to the bill.

“In today’s world, we cannot risk compromising important homeland security information to our foreign adversaries,” Guest said in a statement about his bill. “This is a common-sense step to close a potential tool of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] to spy on the U.S.”

In June, leaked recordings of TikTok’s internal meetings obtained by BuzzFeed News allegedly show that engineers in China had access to the app’s U.S. data, at least between September 2021 and January. TikTok has refuted the BuzzFeed report in a letter (pdf) to a group of GOP senators, saying it was “not supported by facts.”

ByteDance also lobbied on a number of issues related to privacy, including the following bills: the Children and Teens’ Online Privacy Protection Act (S.1628), the Kids Online Safety Act (S.3663), and the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (H.R.8152).

In March, the attorney generals of California, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Vermont launched an investigation into the potential harm that TikTok has on children and teens.

Following the announcement of the bipartisan investigation, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) applauded the investigation, saying the probe “will uncover TikTok’s actions that put profits over kids’ safety,” according to a statement from his office.

“This investigation underscores the urgent need for our Kids Online Safety Act, so these state attorneys general can hold platforms like TikTok legally and financially accountable for the harms they find,” Blumenthal added. Blumenthal and Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) jointly introduced the Kids Online Safety Act in February.

Concerns

On July 12, 39 digital rights and children’s advocacy groups, including Fairplay and ParentsTogether, sent a joint letter (pdf) to TikTok CEO Chew Shouzi, calling on him to implement safety features protecting young users now available to the app’s users in Europe to other parts of the world.

“Many of TikTok’s young users are not European; TikTok’s biggest markets are in the United States, Indonesia and Brazil. All children and young people deserve an age appropriate experience, not just those from within Europe,” according to the letter.

Brendan Carr, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioner, wrote to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai in June, calling on the two executives to remove TikTok from their app stores.

“It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data,” Carr wrote in his letter (pdf).

The Epoch Times has reached out to TikTok for comment. 

Frank Fang
journalist
Frank Fang is a Taiwan-based journalist. He covers US, China, and Taiwan news. He holds a master's degree in materials science from Tsinghua University in Taiwan.