The owner of the Chinese-owned social media platform TikTok has refuted allegations that it is operating an illegal subsidiary on the island, but Taiwan’s government has launched an investigation.
TikTok, which is not very popular in Taiwan, has faced pressure primarily from Americans who are worried about China gaining access to user data, a concern the company vehemently refutes.
Taiwan’s China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said in a statement late on Sunday that a working group under the Cabinet had found evidence that TikTok was suspected of “illegal commercial operations” in Taiwan on December 9.
According to Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper, ByteDance, the owner of TikTok, had established a subsidiary on the island to advertise for business, in violation of Taiwanese law that forbids Chinese social media platforms from conducting business there.
In response to that report, the Mainland Affairs Council stated that the Cabinet’s working group had discovered that there was in fact a suspected legal violation and that legal authorities were looking into it.
“In recent years, the mainland side has used short video platforms like TikTok to carry out cognitive operations and infiltration against other countries, and there is a high risk the Chinese government is collecting users’ personal information,” it added.
ByteDance, however, claimed that “recent reports” claiming it has established a subsidiary in Taiwan were false.
“The company has not established any legal entities in Taiwan,” it said in an emailed statement to Reuters, without elaborating.
Taiwan forbids a variety of Chinese businesses from operating on the island, including social media sites and the highly lucrative chip manufacturing sector.
According to the council, Taiwan has already prohibited government agencies from using Chinese apps like TikTok.
The most popular social media sites in Taiwan are Facebook and Instagram, both of which are owned by Meta Platforms (META.O). Although TikTok lagged behind its competitors in Taiwan, market research firms claim that it is growing in popularity among young people.
Taiwan has long complained that China misinformation is being spread on the island that Beijing claims as its own territory by means of social media.
As part of a multiyear effort to counter what many Taiwanese perceive to be Chinese attempts to influence politics and the democratic process, including through the covert funding of politicians and the media, among other tactics, Taiwan passed an anti-infiltration law in 2019.
(Adapted from Reuters.com)