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TikTok beefs up lobbying crew as U.S. authorities scrutiny intensifies

A TikTok logo is seen on a mobile device in Mountain View, California on November 2, 2019 as a photo illustration.

Yichuan Cao | NurPhoto | Getty Images

TikTok is bulking up its lobbying team as the U.S. government intensifies its oversight of the social media company, which is owned by Chinese firm Bytedance. 

The hires include people with deep experience in government and public policy. One of the new hires, Michael Hacker, confirmed the appointments. 

Starting this week in the company’s public policy office are:

Hacker, who previously worked as senior advisor to House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C.Michael Bloom, who last worked as senior vice president of the Internet AssociationCarolyn Lowry, who worked as an associate in the public policy group at law firm K&L GatesDayo Simms, a privacy professional who last worked for UberAlbert Calamug, a policy advisor with a track record in the defense and aerospace industry, including 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Kim Lipsky, who was staff director of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation until last July, joined earlier this summer.

They are joining on the heels of Michael Beckerman, former CEO of powerful lobbying group the Internet Association, who started at the company this spring.

“Michael Beckerman is a best-in-class government relations professional with more than 15 years experience,” said Hacker, the former Clyburn advisor. “When he got the job, he asked me if I’d consider coming to help him.”

The hiring spree comes as the TikTok app has enjoyed an explosion in popularity, particularly with adolescents and young adults who enjoy recording themselves doing choreographed dances and viral challenges. As Americans have been forced indoors by the pandemic, it has become the most downloaded app of the year.

With that growth comes scrutiny, particularly as politicians on both sides of the aisle are looking closely at all of technology companies’ size, access to data and privacy protections. TikTok’s Chinese ties have made it particularly vulnerable to such inquiries. 

Last year, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States began an inquiry into the application over concerns Beijing could access its data and use it to threaten U.S. national security.

President Donald Trump told Gray TV’s Greta Van Susteren that the administration is looking at banning TikTok, citing its size and his dissatisfaction with how China has handled the coronavirus.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo previously told Fox News that the U.S is “looking at” banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps. On Wednesday, he told reporters the administration is looking broadly at technologies owned by foreign companies, rather than targeting one in particular.

The tough words come after Hong Kong announced a new law that grants the Chinese government sweeping powers, including tighter control over online content.

TikTok and has announced plans to exit the Hong Kong market, as other technology companies have put data requests there on hold. 

TikTok has previously said that U.S. user data is stored in the United States, with a backup in Singapore. The company also said that its data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of its data is subject to Chinese law. 

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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