A star-studded array of Silicon Valley venture investors have joined forces with a bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers as part of a working group that has one aim: Combatting China’s influence in the U.S. technology industry, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.
The consortium is named the Hill & Valley Forum, the Journal reported, a nod to the group’s bicoastal origins. The Forum will host a dinner ahead of TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew’s Congressional testimony next week, with speakers including prominent venture capitalists Peter Thiel and Vinod Khosla, the Journal reported.
Representatives for Thiel and Khosla weren’t immediately available for comment.
TikTok’s possible influence over the American zeitgeist, particularly among younger or under-age citizens, has increasingly concerned lawmakers and regulators, who fear that the app’s Chinese ownership exposes American users susceptible to China’s intelligence-gathering efforts.
Former Google global policy advisor Jacob Helberg, who is leading the alliance, told the Journal that TikTok represents “the most potent espionage operation that China has ever carried out against the U.S.”
TikTok’s popularity exploded during covid lockdowns. By 2021, TikTok’s Chinese parent company Bytedance said the app had reached one billion monthly active users, showing sharp growth from Dec. 2019, when it reported 507 million monthly users.
Now, lawmakers, venture investors, and lobbyists are pushing for the government to ban or curtail the app’s influence, citing a potent threat from the Chinese government.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, told ByteDance that unless the company’s Chinese owners divested from their stakes, CFIUS would move to ban the app, the company told CNBC on Thursday. The ultimatum came weeks after lawmakers urged the Committee to complete its yearslong probe into TikTok.
“There is no truth” to Helberg’s assertions, a TikTok spokesperson told CNBC. The spokesperson added that TikTok had stored “all” new U.S. user data “exclusively” with Oracle since Oct. 2022.