French data protection authorities to probe TikTok as suitors circle

TikTok, the under-threat video-sharing app beloved of Generation Z, faces a new investigation into its data-gathering and protection practices in France, as the Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) confirmed that it will examine the affairs of TikTok’s parent, ByteDance.

CNIL confirmed to Bloomberg that it had opened an investigation after receiving a complaint about TikTok in May 2020. A spokesperson for the organisation said it was acting with particular vigilance with regard to TikTok’s activities, but would not elaborate on any timescale for its inquiry.

ByteDance is currently facing the prospect of an outright ban in the US, beginning in mid-September, after president Trump signed an executive order against it last week citing reasons of national security and accusing TikTok of passing data on its millions of US users to the Chinese Communist Party.

Other probes into TikTok are in progress, including an EU-wide investigation coordinated by Dutch authorities, while the outcome of an inquiry into how it protects data on minors conducted by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is still pending.

Meanwhile, the under-fire app may have a new suitor for its US operations in the form of social network Twitter, which The Wall Street Journal reported on 9 August to have entered preliminary talks with the China-based firm.

ByteDance is already in talks with Microsoft over a possible divestment of TikTok in the US, as well as Australia, Canada and New Zealand – although not the UK.

However, an acquisition led by Twitter could be a more desirable solution to the impasse because, according to Reuters, it may face less regulatory scrutiny. But it is also understood that Twitter would need to raise substantial amounts of new capital to fund any bid.

Twitter, which bought and subsequently shut down Vine, a short-form video-sharing service that had built a similar user base to TikTok, declined to comment on the rumours, as did TikTok.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and trade adviser Peter Navarro got themselves into a “knockdown, drag-out” brawl over TikTok in the Oval Office, with Mnuchin being accused of being soft on China. Mnuchin subsequently appeared on the CNBC news network to say TikTok could not continue to exist in its present form.

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