WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump is threatening to halt operations in the United States of a popular Chinese-owned video-sharing social media app.
The White House said it had “very serious national security concerns over TikTok. We continue to evaluate future policy.”
Late Friday, the president said he would likely use an executive order to prohibit the app.
“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” he told reporters Friday night as they traveled with him from Florida on Air Force One. He indicated he would take action as soon as the following day.
However, a casually dressed Trump was seen Saturday morning by VOA departing the West Wing for his private 325-hectare golf club located 40 kilometers northwest of the White House.
Trump had also told reporters on the flight back home that he did not support a deal that would allow a U.S. company to buy TikTok’s American operations.
Microsoft and other U.S. companies, in recent days, reportedly have been looking to purchase the U.S. operations of TikTok.
Microsoft put its discussions on hold following reporting of the president’s stance, The Wall Street Journal said.
The app is extremely popular globally. It has been downloaded 2 billion times worldwide, including 165 million times in the United States.
The app features not only entertainment videos but also debates, and it takes positions on political issues, such as racial justice and the coming U.S. presidential election.
Officials in Washington are concerned that TikTok may pose a security threat, fearing the company might share users’ data with China’s government.
When asked by Fox News last month whether Americans should download the app onto their phones, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, has said it does not share user data with the Chinese government and maintains that it stores U.S. user data only in the U.S. and Singapore. ByteDance has agreed to divest the U.S. operations of TikTok completely in a bid to save a deal with the White House, the Reuters news agency reported Saturday.
TikTok also recently chose former Disney executive Kevin Mayer as its chief executive in a move seen as an effort to distance itself from Beijing.
TikTok General Manager Venessa Pappas uploaded a video Saturday reassuring users that “we’re not going anywhere” and noting that the platform has 1,500 employees in the United States and has been planning on bringing an additional 10,000 jobs into the country over the next three years.
ACLU blasts ban
Trump’s proposed ban is opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"Banning an app that millions of Americans use to communicate with each other is a danger to free expression and is technologically impractical,” said Jennifer Granick, the ACLU’s surveillance and cybersecurity counsel.
“With any internet platform, we should be concerned about the risk that sensitive private data will be funneled to abusive governments, including our own. But shutting one platform down, even if it were legally possible to do so, harms freedom of speech online and does nothing to resolve the broader problem of unjustified government surveillance,” Granick told VOA.
The U.S. government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), an interagency group led by the Treasury Department, opened a national security review of TikTok last year.
CFIUS’s job is to oversee foreign investments and assess them for potential national security risks. It can force companies to cancel deals or institute other measures it deems necessary for national security.
China could retaliate.
"It could take the nuclear option, like banning Apple. Or, it may start to double down on initiatives like the STAR exchange [launched to make China technologically independent],” Abishur Prakash of the Center for Innovating the Future in Toronto, told VOA.
“The biggest mistake the West has made is playing its most powerful card too soon — banning Chinese companies from the richest markets in the world. This is a long-term fight and the TikTok saga is just the beginning,” predicted Prakash, a geopolitical futurist.
Some on social media are accusing Trump of singling out TikTok because pranksters used the app to order hundreds of thousands of tickets to his June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which attracted a smaller-than-expected crowd. TikTok is also where comedian Sarah Cooper posts her videos lip-synced to Trump sound bites, which have attracted millions of views.
Cooper uploaded a video Friday mouthing comments made by the president earlier in the day about TikTok.