President Trump said Wednesday that the U.S. is considering banning the social media app TikTok amid fears that it could be used by China to spy on Americans.
‘We’re looking at TikTok, we’re thinking about making a decision,’ he told reporters in the South Lawn before departing the White House for a day trip to Texas.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who stood alongside Trump and addressed reporters, said TikTok is being looked at by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which reviews deals by foreign acquirers for potential national security risks.
They could call for an all-out ban or force its Chinese parent company to divest it – a move which could see it valued at as much as $50 billion.
TikTok, which has grown its user base to an estimated one billion worldwide, has consistently denied any links to the Chinese government, as critics warn of potential security risks because of its Chinese-based parent firm ByteDance.
The number of American users has been estimated to be as high as 80 million a month – although because the company is not publicly traded, the estimate by outside analysts is impossible to verify.
President Trump (center) told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. is ‘looking at’ banning TikTok, a Chinese social media app. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (left) said the app is under review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States
TikTok faces regulatory challenges across the globe, and a potential ban by the U.S. government over suspicions Beijing could force its Chinese owner to turn over user data. China’s President Xi Jinping is photographed in May
The president made the comments about TikTok as he departed the White House Wednesday for a day trip to Texas. Mnuchin informed reporters he would have a recommendation for the president this week on how to handle the Chinese-based app
Mnuchin said he’d make a recommendation to Trump this week.
The move comes after Joe Biden’s presidential campaign banned staffers from using the Chinese video sharing app, citing security and privacy concerns.
In a memo on Monday, Biden’s general counsel, Dana Remus, ordered staff members to delete TikTok from both their personal and work phones, and to ‘refrain from downloading and using TikTok,’ according to Bloomberg.
TIKTOK FEELING HEAT AROUND THE WORLD OVER ‘SPY’ CLAIMS
A possible ban or forced divestment comes amid mounting worldwide scrutiny of TikTok.
The central claim – which the company denies – is that it is closely tied to the Chinese Communist Party and that data stored on it can be access by Beijing.
It is not know if the founder of its parent company ByteDance, Zhang Yiming, is a member of the party but he has publicly backed ‘socialist values.’
In the U.S. critics, particularly Senate Republicans, have warned that the Chinese company cannot legally refuse to hand data to the country’s government.
However TikTok does not actually operate in China, and claims its data is not subject to Chinese law.
India has entirely banned the app, making it the first country to do so. The move was part of a ban on dozens of Chinese apps amid border tensions between the two countries.
In the UK, the company shelved plans for a global headquarters which would have created 3,000 jobs.
The move came after claims from one Conservative politician that users’ data was being shared with the Chinese Communist Party, which the company denied.
In Australia, a lawmaker from the ruling party has asked for the app to be banned on national security grounds.
The memo also bans staff from trading individual stocks without approval from the campaign’s general counsel, an unusual step for a presidential campaign.
TikTok has offered no immediate response to Trump and Mnuchin’s announcement.
But hours earlier it pushed back at what it called ‘maligning attacks’ that call attention to the video app’s Chinese connections – a coded reference to the inquiry, and also to what it claims are
TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer said the attacks were ‘disguised as patriotism and designed to put an end to our very presence in the U.S.’
‘We are not political, we do not accept political advertising and have no agenda — our only objective is to remain a vibrant, dynamic platform for everyone to enjoy,’ Mayer said.
‘TikTok has become the latest target, but we are not the enemy.’
Mayer said TikTok has established a policy on transparency and added that it would go further than others by disclosing more about its internal algorithms.
‘We believe all companies should disclose their algorithms, moderation policies, and data flows to regulators,’ he said.
TikTok faces regulatory challenges across the globe, and a potential ban by the U.S. government over suspicions Beijing could force its Chinese owner to turn over user data is the latest threat.
The investigation began n November when it emerged that the app’s Chinese parent, Beijing ByteDance Technology Co was being probed by CFIUS over its $1 billion purchase of social media app Musical.ly, after lawmakers raised concerns over how it stores personal data as well as allegations of censorship.
A TikTok representative said at the time that the company could not comment on CFIUS matters, but added that TikTok was working to ‘develop a best-in-class security infrastructure’ and promote a safe app experience.
The committee can force ByteDance to unwind the deal, or take other measures to mitigate the national security threat.
ByteDance has received a proposal from some of its investors, including American firms Sequoia and General Atlantic, to transfer majority ownership of TikTok to them.
Some ByteDance investors are valuing the popular app at about $50 billion.
Other challenges are also on the horizon. The Senate is currently slated to vote on a bill that would ban the use of TikTok on all government-issued devices.
The ‘No TikTok on Government Devices Act’ sponsored by Senator Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, was passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
Founder: ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, was founded by Zhang Yiming, who is accused of Communist party links
Joe Biden’s presidential campaign has banned staffers from using the Chinese video sharing app TikTok, citing security and privacy concerns
TikTok’s wide popularity among American teens has brought scrutiny from U.S. regulators and lawmakers who fear their personal information could fall into the hands of government officials in Beijing
Companies including Wells Fargo, and government agencies including the Transportation Security Administration, have already instructed their employees to delete TikTok from their work phones.
TikTok’s wide popularity among American teens has brought scrutiny from U.S. regulators and lawmakers who fear their personal information could fall into the hands of government officials in Beijing.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
- Users post videos of themselves and broadcast them on the app
- Anyone can find these videos and post comments on them
- It also allows you to message that person privately
- Some of the most popular videos are watched more than 10 million times
- Each TikTok video is generally 15 to 60 seconds long
- The videos are typically set to music, often showing the user dancing, doing a trick, or lip-syncing
TikTok, which was originally used to create short dance, lip-sync, comedy and talent videos, said last year about 60 percent of its 26.5 million monthly active U.S. users are aged 16 to 24.
Under a Chinese law introduced in 2017, companies have an obligation to support and cooperate in the country’s national intelligence work.
Last week, the House of Representatives voted to bar federal employees from downloading the app on government-issued devices as part of a $741 billion defense policy bill.
Lawmakers voted 336-71 to pass the proposal, offered by Rep. Ken Buck, a Colorado Republican.
With passage in the Democrat-controlled House and approval by the Republican-led Senate Committee, the prohibition could soon become law in the United States.
Top officials in the Trump administration have also said they were considering a broader ban on TikTok and other Chinese-linked apps, and that action may be imminent.
For example, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said Americans should be cautious in using the app.
TikTok spokeswoman Jamie Favazza said the company’s growing U.S. team has no higher priority than promoting a safe app experience that protects users’ privacy.
‘Millions of American families use TikTok for entertainment and creative expression, which we recognize is not what federal government devices are for,’ she said.
Later Wednesday in Washington, the heads of U.S.-based tech companies will participate in a House hearing via Zoom. Participants will include Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Google’s Sundar Pichai.