Photo of GNC from RowanLovesCars via Wikimedia Creative Commons
Florida Senator Marco Rubio is demanding a national security review of General Nutrition Centers (GNC) with suspicions that personal data of millions of GNC customers could go to a China-based company.
The New York Post reported GNC is trying to sell itself to Harbin Pharmaceutical Group for $760 million in a court-supervised auction. Harbin Pharmaceutical is the second biggest drug maker in China. Recently GNC, an 85-year-old supplements seller, filed for bankruptcy, claiming coronavirus lockdowns triggered a “dramatic negative impact” on its business.
Rubio, also dubbed a “China Hawk” who urged a probe of TikTok’s ownership by another Chinese firm, requested Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to investigate GNC’s plans, according to Channel News Asia.
In 2018, Harbin invested $300 million in GNC. At the time, the feds reviewed Harbin’s controlling stake in the company and concluded that no consumer data was available to any foreign national.
A GNC spokesperson told Reuters, “That (2018) transaction was approved, and no facts or circumstances have changed to call the committee’s support into question. We will continue to work with all relevant agencies throughout the restructuring process and maintain our rigorous standards for data privacy.”
Regardless, the US senator raised concerns that the Chinese government is seeking sensitive data about Americans through various measures.
In a letter to federal regulators, Rubio wrote, “Efforts to obtain personal and sensitive data related to health information and financial transactions of U.S. persons must be reviewed with an understanding of the malign foreign policy and intelligence aims of the Chinese government and Communist Party,”
Rubio also explained in an interview with Fox Business, “Now people would say who cares about a vitamin company GNC. It’s not their intellectual property in that case. It’s about data. GNC holds data on millions of Americans that have been their customers.”
Warning how “personal data is probably the most valuable commodity in the world today,” Rubio went on to say the GNC sale should be scrutinized or else the data of millions of Americans “is going to belong to the Chinese government.”
Rubio stressed, “If anyone has ever gone to a GNC, you know, you get this account, they take down your phone number, they take down your purchase history, your information, your payment history.”
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