President Donald Trump told reporters on Friday night that he is planning to ban TikTok in the United States. Trump said he would ban the Chinese-owned social media platform that has over 800 million daily active users as soon as Saturday.
What did the president say?
“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One. “I will sign the document tomorrow,” said Trump on Friday night. He was asked when the TikTok ban would go into effect, the president replied, “Soon, immediately. I mean essentially immediately.”
On July 6, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. is “looking at” banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps.
“We are taking this very seriously. We are certainly looking at it,” Pompeo said during a Fox News interview. “We have worked on this very issue for a long time.”
“Whether it was the problems of having Huawei technology in your infrastructure we’ve gone all over the world and we’re making real progress getting that out. We declared ZTE a danger to American national security,” Pompeo said of two Chinese telecommunications companies that have been designated as threats to U.S. national security. “With respect to Chinese apps on peoples’ cellphones, the United States will get this one right too.”
What is TikTok?
TikTok is a short-form video app owned by the Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., one of China’s biggest tech companies. TikTok is not used in China, instead there is a Chinese version known as “Douyin.” ByteDance had revenue of $17 billion in 2019.
In 2019, TikTok was the second-most popular free app in the world. The app has been downloaded over 2 billion times globally, according to research firm Sensor Tower. There are 80 million daily active TikTok users in the U.S.
Why would TikTok be banned?
There are concerns that the Chinese government could use TikTok to spy on Americans. Last month, Pompeo said using TikTok puts “your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
The Defense Department said in December that TikTok has “potential security risks associated with its use.”
In a Fox Business interview on July 12, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said, “[TikTok] and WeChat are the biggest forms of censorship on the Chinese mainland, and so expect strong action on that.”
“What the American people have to understand is all of the data that goes into those mobile apps that kids have so much fun with and seem so convenient, it goes right to servers in China, right to the Chinese military, the Chinese communist party, and the agencies which want to steal our intellectual property,” Navarro added.
TikTok claims that it doesn’t keep any data from users in China and would never give the information to the Chinese government.
“TikTok U.S. user data is stored in the U.S., with strict controls on employee access,” a TikTok spokesperson said. “TikTok’s biggest investors come from the U.S. We are committed to protecting our users’ privacy and safety.”
“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 TikTok spokesperson said in July. “We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”
In March, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) introduced legislation to ban all federal employees from using TikTok on government devices.
Can Trump ban TikTok?
Trump said he could use emergency economic powers or an executive order to ban TikTok.
“Well, I have that authority. I can do it with an executive order or that,” he said, referring to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. The law allows the president to regulate international commerce after declaring a national emergency in response to an extraordinary threat to the country.
Could an American company buy TikTok?
On Friday morning, Bloomberg reported that Trump planned to order ByteDance to divest ownership of TikTok. That prompted rumors that Microsoft could purchase the influential social media platform’s U.S. operations.
Trump appeared to downplay the Microsoft rumors on Friday night.
“[It’s] not the deal that you have been hearing about, that they are going to buy and sell, and this and that,” Trump said. And Microsoft and another one. We’re not an M&A company.”
A Reuters report on Saturday morning claims that ByteDance has agreed to divest U.S. operations of TikTok completely.
“Under ByteDance’s new proposal, Microsoft will be in charge of protecting all U.S. user data, the sources said,” according to Reuters. “The plan allows for another U.S. company other than Microsoft to take over TikTok in the United States, the sources added.”
Microsoft declined to comment.
“If TikTok separates as an American company, that doesn’t help us,” Navarro said in July. “Because it’s going to be worse – we’re going to have to give China billions of dollars for the privilege of having TikTok operate on U.S. soil.”
Which countries have banned TikTok?
India banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps on June 29, following a border clash between the two countries that left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead. There were 119 million TikTok users in India, the largest market for the Chinese video app.
Australia is also considering blocking the massively popular app that features viral videos, music, and people dancing. TikTok responded to Australia’s potential ban by saying it was “caught in the middle” of rising tensions between countries, and claiming it is being used as a “political football,” according to the Guardian.
TikTok is available in 141 countries.
How would a TikTok ban work?
There is no precedent of a network block in the U.S.
The Trump administration could introduce new regulations for app stores. The government could order app providers, such as Apple and Google, to yank TikTok from their stores.
“The tech community will be very hesitant to go along with this app ban,” Wayne Lam, an independent technology analyst, told CNET. “It sets a precedent for the government to ban other apps or even for other global apps to be inaccessible to the US market.”
However, even if the large app stores stop offering TikTok, the app could still be installed from other sources.
The U.S. Commerce Department could put TikTok on its “entity” list, according to Carolina Milanesi, a tech analyst at Creative Strategies. This would restrict TikTok’s access to U.S. technology. Chinese communications giant Huawei, which specializes in 5G tech, was placed on that list.
“There is no law that would authorize the federal government to ban ordinary Americans from using an app,” said Kurt Opsahl, general counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group.