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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Political and economic motivations behind a sale or shutdown of TikTok in the U.S. are obscuring sincere security concerns raised by the rise of the Chinese-owned social video app.

The big picture: U.S. intelligence officials evince deep worry over Chinese companies’ ability to resist Beijing’s demands for data.

Where it stands: TikTok as it’s used by most Americans — for memeable short videos of people dancing, joking and lip-syncing to other videos — doesn’t immediately scream security risk.

  • But national security officials worry that Beijing, should it compel TikTok parent ByteDance to turn over data, could still farm the app for intelligence-gathering purposes.

TikTok data could…

  • Reveal users’ locations, personally identifiable information and larger social networks to Beijing’s spies. That in turn could help Chinese intelligence agencies hunt down foreign intelligence operatives (such as CIA officers), potential intelligence targets (such as businesspeople) and Chinese dissidents abroad.
  • Be scraped for information like email addresses that could be used to help hack targets’ other accounts.
  • Be mined to hone artificial intelligence systems or otherwise improve China’s big data capabilities. For instance, China could improve government facial recognition tech by training it on a wider range of ethnicities than is possible domestically, noted a former senior intelligence official.

The other side: TikTok says all of its data is stored outside of China and is therefore safe from potential prying by Beijing.

  • TikTok is not actually available for users in China; ByteDance instead operates a nearly identical app domestically.
  • Still, that’s done little to assuage China hawks, who note that recent Chinese laws assert the power to demand data from any company that so much as does business in the country.

Go deeper

Trump bans Americans from investing in 31 companies with links to Chinese military

Photo: Kevin Frayer via Getty

President Trump signed an executive order Thursday prohibiting American companies and individuals from owning shares in any of the 31 Chinese companies previously listed as enabling the People’s Liberation Army, effective Jan. 11.

Why it matters: Many of these companies trade on U.S. exchanges and are sometimes purchased by American investors as part of mutual funds. It’s unclear what effect Trump’s latest sanctions could have on the markets.

Former Blizzard CEO says he "failed” women at the studio

Image: Neville Elder / Getty Images

Mike Morhaime, who co-founded and worked at video game studio Blizzard for 28 years, has apologized publicly for toxic work conditions at his former studio, which is now the subject of a discrimination and harassment lawsuit by the state of California.

Why it matters: Morhaime is no longer at Blizzard, but was its leader for most of its existence and therefore was in charge when much of what is alleged in California’s suit would have occurred.

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Go deeper: Full Axios coverage