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Canadians, parents shouldn’t worry about TikTok security review: industry minister

OTTAWA — The federal industry minister says Canadians shouldn’t worry about using TikTok, despite an ongoing national security review of the company.
The TikTok logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen which displays the TikTok home screen, March 18, 2023, in Boston. The federal industry minister says Canadians shouldn’t worry about using TikTok despite an ongoing national security review. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Michael Dwyer

OTTAWA — The federal industry minister says Canadians shouldn’t worry about using TikTok, despite an ongoing national security review of the company.

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne was asked at a press conference Friday whether Canadians using the app, including parents whose kids are obsessed with TikTok, should be worried. 

"The answer is no. And I think Canadians and parents should be happy to see that we were ahead of the curve," he said about launching the review six months ago.

Champagne was asked later why the government kept its review a secret if there was nothing for parents to worry about.

He said that when he spoke about whether they should be "concerned," he was referring to "actions being taken with respect to the company." 

Anything that happens as a result of the review would be "directed at the company and not the users," he said.

The federal Liberals ordered the national security review of TikTok in September 2023 but did not disclose it publicly until this week.

The revelation came after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday to ban TikTok unless its China-based owner sells its stake in the business.

Champagne said the government would follow that bill carefully. He noted it "still has some way to go before it would become law," referring to the need for it to pass in the U.S. Senate.

TikTok is a wholly owned subsidiary of Chinese technology firm ByteDance Ltd.

The concern driving the U.S. bill is that because of Chinese national security laws that compel organizations to assist with intelligence gathering, the Chinese government could demand access to the data of TikTok's American consumers.

Champagne's office has asserted that the six-month-old Canadian review is not related to the U.S. bill.

The minister said Friday the Canadian probe should come as no surprise because the government issued a new policy earlier this month on foreign investment in the Canadian digital media sector. 

He said that policy was "explicit that we would be putting foreign investment in respect of interactive digital media under intense scrutiny."

That policy statement says "hostile state-sponsored or influenced actors" could use investments to spread disinformation or manipulate information in a way that harms Canada's national security.

The government has said that a business expansion triggered the review under the Investment Canada Act. It hasn't stated which one, but a government database shows a notification of new business from TikTok in June 2023.

The database says Network Sense Ventures Ltd. in Toronto and Vancouver would engage in "marketing, advertising, and content/creator development activities in relation to the use of the TikTok app in Canada."

The Investment Canada Act allows the government to launch a review when it believes a foreign investment might harm national security. 

Cabinet can take measures like making investors sell parts of the business or sell shares, or allow them to continue operating as long as they agree to conditions.

The federal government banned TikTok from its mobile devices in February 2023 following the launch of an investigation into the company by federal and provincial privacy commissioners.

Champagne said the Investment Canada Act doesn't allow him to disclose details about the review.

He said once the review is completed, "we'll be informing Canadians about any action, if any, that we decide to take with respect to that particular company."

A TikTok spokesperson said the company is cooperating with the government's review, and the company remains "committed to ensuring the safety and security of the platform for the millions of Canadian creators, artists and small businesses who rely on TikTok to earn a living, find community and create jobs."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 15, 2024.

Anja Karadeglija, The Canadian Press