TikTok fans in the United States are on high alert following news that the Trump administration is considering to ban the app as a retaliatory move against China. The administration’s threat came a week after India barred the app against the backdrop of a border dispute with China; last year it temporarily banned the app for two weeks.
In an interview with Fox News on Monday, July 6, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo floated the threat to bar the app citing concerns over data mining of the private data of American users. “With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too,” he said. “I don’t want to get out in front of the President, but it’s something we’re looking at.”
In an interview on Tuesday, President Donald Trump confirmed the proposed ban but framed it as a punitive measure against China’s handling of the coronavirus.
“It’s something we’re looking at,” the president told Gray Television’s news host Greta Van Susteren. “It’s a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful.”
In a press briefing on Wednesday, Pompeo elaborated on the issue, saying that the examination of TikTok is part of a broader effort to “deny the Chinese communist party access to private information that belongs to Americans.”
In response, TikTok denied Pompeo’s allegations and reassured its American users that their personal data is kept safe from the hands of Chinese authorities.
“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the US,” a spokesperson for the company said. “We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”
The US is the second-largest market for TikTok after India. If the Trump administration’s threat is realized, the company could lose more than 40 million users in the US, along with more than 190 million users in India.
Last week, the Indian government announced that it would ban TikTok and other popular Chinese apps like WeChat over allegations that they are engaged in “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers which have locations outside India.” TikTok said in response that it “continues to comply with all data privacy and security requirements under Indian law and has not shared any information of our users in India with any foreign government, including the Chinese Government.”
TikTok is owned by Beijing-based company ByteDance, but it operates from global offices in Los Angeles, New York and in other major cities around the world. Last year, the company was accused of censorship after it banned content that criticized the persecution of Uighur Muslims by the Chinese government. TikTok has also acknowledged that it had previously hidden the videos of disabled, overweight, and LGBTQ creators, whom it labeled as “particularly vulnerable” to bullying.
In addition, the app is currently subject to an inquiry by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Justice Department over allegations that it had collected information on children below 13 without parental permission. The company is accused of violating US privacy law and breaching a 2019 settlement with FTC in which it committed not to collect data on minors.