Update: After discussions with President Trump, it is reported that Microsoft is looking into the purchase of TikTok. It also appears that executives from TikTok have been speaking to the White House in an effort to prevent a complete ban of their platform.
It looks like time may be up for the Chinese app, TikTok. President Trump flagged Saturday, August 1, as the day he is likely to ban the digital platform in America. His stated reason involves national security, but there appear to be a plethora of reasons to ditch the fastest growing social platform in the country.
It’s estimated that TikTok enjoys 80 million active monthly users in the U.S. It’s owned by a Chinese outfit known as ByteDance, and U.S. authorities are concerned that the personal data of millions of Americans users will ultimately land in the hands of Chinese communist officials. What could the Chinese do with such a surfeit of American information? Federal authorities aren’t saying, but they do not like the possibilities.
No U.S. president has ever banned the use of a mobile app. Whether Mr. Trump has the authority to do so and how this removal from the American digital terrain will be effectuated is uncertain. It’s entirely possible the president’s actions may end up in the courts.
However, there is precedent for removing TikTok in other countries. Citing security concerns, India banned the Chinese-owned APP along with Bangladesh and Indonesia. Australia is considering giving TikTok the heave-ho as well. However, it might not be game over for ByteDance as they fight against government forces across the globe. For example, this is the second time India has shown the Chinese app the stop sign; it has been expelled and reinstated before in that country.
No fan of the president, the BBC has speculated that Trump is going hard after TikTok because it was the platform that was used to falsely register thousands of attendants for his Tulsa, OK rally. Another theory is that Trump is in a foul mood regarding anything Chinese and has been sparring with President Xi Jinping since the outbreak of COVID-19 shut down the U.S. economy. One final hypothesis is that the demographics of TikTok users reveal an incredibly young and politically left-leaning progressive crowd.
However, there is nothing to indicate that Mr. Trump’s stated reason – valuing and protecting the privacy of individual Americans – is not the central reason behind kicking TikTok to the curb. In defense of its digital product, ByteDance insists that data collected from American users is stored in the States, with a back-up in Singapore. On July 20, BBC News reported that the head of TikTok’s public policy Theo Bertram flatly denied any breaches of user information now or in the future. “The suggestion that we are in any way under the thumb of the Chinese government is completely and utterly false,” he told the BBC. Still, U.S. officials suspect the integrity and genuineness of the Chinese heads of ByteDance may be in question due to their monetary motivation to keep operating in the U.S.
What the Heck is TikTok?
TikTok is seemingly an innocuous mobile platform in which mostly young people create 15-second videos and then post them to share. Perhaps its popularity lies in its entertainment value. Many of the posts are creative and humorous.
Whether TikTok is a real national security threat or not at the moment is not the issue. The fact that the app contains individual information of 80 million Americans lies at the heart of the dispute. That such information could end up in the hands of the communist Chinese does not appear to be a risk President Trump is willing to take.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.