TikTok, the popular music-video app, is building up its fledgling lobbying operations to counter stepped-up pressure in Washington over its Chinese ownership and wage an escalating battle with Facebook Inc. for viewers.
The company, which registered its first lobbyist in June, is seeking to add a U.S. policy chief, plans to further expand its internal policy staff and is reshuffling outside lobbyists, according to people familiar with its plans.
The policy chief position is a new one and will help shape the company’s advocacy priorities and oversee its growing lobbying operations, said two people familiar with the moves.
TikTok, which is owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Inc., also has hired Monument Advocacy, a public affairs and lobbying firm known for its expertise in technology policy, according to another person familiar with the matter. The person said TikTok is winding down its relationship with lobbyists at the law firm Covington & Burling LLP, which has close ties to Facebook.
The relationship between Covington and Facebook was one reason for TikTok’s decision to break with the firm, the person said. Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Erin Egan formerly co-chaired Covington’s data privacy and security practice. Facebook also hired Covington to help work on its anti-conservative bias report released in August. Covington’s Jon Kyl, a former Republican senator from Arizona, headed up that review.
The lobbying push is part of TikTok’s effort to calm U.S. regulators and policy makers and try to persuade them that it’s really a U.S. company, said one of the people. Concerns are growing that TikTok could pose a national security threat because of its Chinese ownership and the risk that the government in Beijing could get access to the app’s growing troves of user data.
Facebook has underscored Washington’s concerns about TikTok as it combats its own scrutiny from lawmakers and antitrust enforcers.
Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg insinuated during an October speech at Georgetown University that protesters in Hong Kong use Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging platform “due to strong encryption and privacy protections,” whereas “mentions of these protests are censored, even in the U.S.” on TikTok.
Monument Advocacy counts Amazon.com Inc. and Microsoft Corp. as clients, but doesn’t work directly with Facebook, unlike other firms TikTok spoke with, the person said. Monument does represent an industry coalition on government surveillance that includes Facebook.
TikTok, Monument and Facebook declined to comment. Covington didn’t respond to requests for comment. The lobbying changes haven’t yet been disclosed in public filings.
The company was also the focus of a hearing earlier this month during which one Republican senator blasted it as a threat to global data security.
“All it takes is one knock on the door of their parent company, based in China, from a Communist Party official, for that data to be transferred to the Chinese government’s hands whenever they need it,” said Josh Hawley of Missouri, a frequent tech critic.
TikTok has rejects the notion it’s controlled by the Chinese government or that U.S. user data is at risk.
“We are not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government,” the company wrote in a blog post last month. “TikTok does not operate in China, nor do we have any intention of doing so in the future.” Ben Brody & Megan Wilson, Bloomberg