Trump Considers Banning TikTok Over Chinese Spying Concerns
Popular social media app linked to Communist Party of China
President Donald Trump says his administration is considering banning the popular social media app TikTok in the U.S. over fears it's being used by the Chinese government to spy on Americans.
The president's warning comes amid mounting concerns over the video-sharing app's links to the Communist Party of China (CPC).
"We're looking at TikTok, we're thinking about making a decision," Trump told reporters Wednesday in the South Lawn before departing the White House for a day trip to Texas.
Standing alongside Trump as he addressed reporters, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said TikTok is being looked at by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.
The committee reviews deals by foreign acquirers for potential national security risks.
The government could call for an all-out ban or force its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to divest it - a move which could see it valued at as much as $50 billion.
Banning it in the U.S. would likely encourage other countries to follow suit, according to The Daily Mail.
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.
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.
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 over suspicions Beijing could force its Chinese owner to turn over user data is the latest threat.
The investigation began in 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.
"We're looking at TikTok, we're thinking about making a decision," Pres. Trump says when asked about whether he was nearing decision about banning the platform.— ABC News (@ABC) July 29, 2020
Trump says he will be watching today's congressional hearing with tech CEOs "very closely." https://t.co/8I1V5xHPAF pic.twitter.com/EriETVCwrW
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 (R-MO) was passed unanimously by the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.
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.
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 (R-CO)
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 participated in a House hearing via Zoom.
Participants include Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Apple's Tim Cook, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, and Google's Sundar Pichai.