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Chinese owner denies it’s willing to sell TikTok as US ban looms | CNN Business

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CNN
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TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance said Thursday that it has no plans to sell the social media platform, its first official response on the fraught issue since President Joe Biden signed a bill that could lead to a nationwide ban of the wildly popular app.

“Foreign media reports that ByteDance is exploring the sale of TikTok are untrue,” the Beijing-based company said in a statement on Toutiao, a news aggregation app that it owns and is popular in mainland China.

“ByteDance doesn’t have any plan to sell TikTok,” it said.

The statement was in direct response to an article by the Information on Thursday that said Bytedance was exploring scenarios for selling TikTok’s US business without the algorithm that recommends videos to TikTok users.

In the statement, Bytedance attached screenshots of the Information’s report, which cited three people with knowledge of deliberations.

Until now Beijing-based ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok and a host of other apps, had remained quiet on this week’s legislation in the US pushing for a forced sale. Chinese authorities have also been muted since the bill was signed into law despite Beijing previously making clear it would oppose any such measure.

Congress passed the bill this week as part of a wide-ranging foreign aid package to support Israel and Ukraine. It was approved by the House on Saturday, and by the Senate on Tuesday.

The legislation poses the most serious risk to TikTok since US officials began raising concerns about the app in 2020. Under what is now US law, TikTok is forced to find a new owner within months or be banned from the United States entirely, its biggest market with 170 million users.

On Wednesday, TikTok’s CEO Shou Chew said the company would fight in the courts to stay online in the US.

“Rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere,” he said in a video posted on the app.

The Chinese government has previously said it strongly opposes a forced sale of TikTok, and has the legal ability to do so. It views TikTok’s technology as highly valuable and has taken steps since 2020 to ensure it can veto any sale by ByteDance.

TikTok’s algorithms, which keep users glued to the app, are believed to be key to its success. The algorithms give recommendations based on users’ behavior, thus pushing videos they want to watch.

US lawmakers have long been concerned about Beijing’s influence over the app. In particular, they worry that TikTok could share data with the Chinese government or manipulate content displayed on its platform. So far, there’s little evidence to support these concerns.

But as a China-based company, ByteDance is subject to a myriad of national intelligence, data security and cybersecurity laws.

In 2018, China amended its National Intelligence Law, which requires any organization or citizen to support, assist and cooperate with national intelligence work. That means ByteDance is legally bound to help with gathering intelligence.

As a result, a number of countries have banned officials from downloading TikTok onto their phones, but the US law is one of the most sweeping measures taken so far. India banned TikTok entirely in 2020.

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