https://www.theepochtimes.com/lawmakers-urge-espn-ceo-to-end-tiktok-sponsorships_4977319.html

Two U.S. House representatives are calling on ESPN Chairman James Pitaro to drop Chinese-owned TikTok as a sponsor of NCAA college football events.

In a Jan. 9 letter (pdf) to the chairman, Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) express their concern over ESPN’s decision to have TikTok sponsor the halftime shows for recent NCAA bowl games, asking for further information about its decision-making process.

“ESPN’s decision to allow TikTok to sponsor halftime shows watched by millions of Americans raises serious questions about ESPN corporate decision-making and the risk analysis it conducts when soliciting sponsorships,” the joint letter reads.

“The U.S. government considers TikTok a national security threat because it is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, which is subject to the direction of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP),” it added.

Gallagher is now the chair of a House select committee aimed at countering the Chinese Communist Party. The creation of the panel is aimed at tackling the myriad challenges posed by Beijing, including military aggression and technology competition.

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) delivers remarks in the House Chamber during the second day of elections for House Speaker at the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington on Jan. 4, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

With more than 1 billion active users globally, the Chinese-owned video-sharing platform counts the United States as its largest market. It stores all U.S. user data on Oracle data servers within the country, with backups in its own data centers in Virginia and Singapore.

The company has admitted that it allows certain employees outside the United States, including some in China, to have restricted access to American user data “on an as-needed basis” because of their specific roles, but denies that they are handed to the Chinese regime.

Obligation

The lawmakers, point out that under Chinese law, companies are required to collaborate with CCP intelligence agencies.

“No Chinese company is truly private, because under China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, all citizens and businesses must assist in intelligence work, including sharing data,” Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi wrote in their letter. Citing a December Forbes report, the House members note that TikTok employees tracked multiple U.S. journalists by accessing their IP addresses and user data.

Besides collecting key personal data and official national security data, the two also worried that TikTok can impose Beijing-style censorship on overseas users. The algorithm and content moderation, or which they described as “a black box,” can be used to promote Beijing’s propaganda and support Party-friendly U.S. politicians.

The Monday letter sought details about ESPN’s vetting procedures when reviewing potential corporate sponsors of its programming, and whether the company was “aware that TikTok is, through ByteDance, effectively controlled by the CCP and that the U.S. government has determined that it is a national security threat.”

It further called on Pitaro to commit by the end of this month to ceasing its commercial relationship with TikTok and other Chinese companies that the U.S. government deems to pose national security threats.

Representatives for ByteDance, TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company, didn’t respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment by press time.

According to the Hill, a TikTok spokesperson said the letter has many inaccuracies, adding the company was “disappointed” that Gallagher and Krishnamoorthi sent the letter without being briefed on the company’s “comprehensive” plans to address national security concerns.

The company denied that it’s directly or indirectly controlled by the CCP, and users can easily find content criticizing the regime over sensitive topics related to Uyghurs in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, and others, according to the spokesperson.

The Epoch Times has reached out to ESPN for comment.

Scrutiny

The letter came as about 20 U.S. states have banned TikTok from state devices amid growing concerns over such threats. The Chinese-owned app is also barred on federal government devices after lawmakers passed a $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill last month.

Congress is considering a bipartisan proposal to prevent ByteDance from conducting business transactions anywhere in the United States.

Last Friday, Seattle Public Schools also filed a lawsuit against tech giants including TikTok for allegedly creating a public nuisance by targeting their products to children. The school blamed such companies for worsening mental health and behavioral disorders, which makes it more difficult to educate students.

Former President Donald Trump had attempted in 2020 to impose a nationwide prohibition on TikTok and WeChat, a Chinese messaging app, over national security risks, but lost a series of court battles over the measure. President Joe Biden then reversed Trump’s order the next year and instead ordered the Commerce Department to conduct a review into these social media apps.

Meanwhile, Biden administration officials and representatives of TikTok are currently engaged in talks to negotiate a national security agreement to address concerns about CCP access to personal data from American users.

Rita Li

Rita Li is a reporter with The Epoch Times, focusing on U.S. and China-related topics. She began writing for the Chinese-language edition in 2018.

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