TikTok’s looming ban is the latest in rocky relationship with US government

Heads up, TikTok users: Pretty soon, your latest challenge won’t be seen by your fans in the U.S., thanks to a looming ban on the uber-popular site. On Friday, President Donald Trump told reporters that he’s looking to use an executive order or emergency economic powers to bar TikTok from operating in the United States.

“I will sign the document tomorrow,” said Trump on Friday, as he was speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One. “As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States.”

TikTok has since responded to the threat, saying that the company—used by nearly 100 million Americans—has also hired 1,000 people for its U.S. team this year. In a statement, it also stressed that data for TikTok users in the U.S. is stored in the country, and strict controls are in place to limit employee access. 

“TikTok’s biggest investors come from the U.S.,” according to the statement. “We are committed to protecting our users’ privacy and safety as we continue working to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform.”

In a video, TikTok general manager for the U.S. Vanessa Pappas thanked the company’s supports, adding the team has heard their outpouring of support. She also stressed that TikTok isn’t going anywhere, saying that they plan on bringing 10,000 jobs into the country in the next three years.

“We’re here for the long run.”

Trump’s announcement comes after reports that Microsoft was in talks to buy the app’s U.S. operations from TikTok’s parent company ByteDance, a Beijing-based company worth $100 billion. The latest development in the company emerged around the same time that Trump announced his plan to force ByteDance to sell ownership of the app in the U.S., primarily over the company’s potential ties to the Chinese government. 

When asked about the rumors of Microsoft’s potential acquisition of the app, Trump appeared to downplay the move, saying that “[it’s] not the deal” and that the government is not involved in mergers and acquisitions.

The move also appeared to confirm a statement made by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last month. In an interview with Fox News, Pompeo said that the Trump administration was looking at the possibility of banning TikTok in the country, but did not provide any details at the time.

“We are taking this very seriously. We are certainly looking at it,” he added.

While TikTok has been popular with teens and millennials, mainly for its short dance, comedy, lip-sync and talent videos, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused its popularity to surge worldwide. The app currently boasts of having more than 800 million active users worldwide. But critics of the company have called out TikTok over reports that the app invades the privacy of its users, passing on data—including hardware IDs, IP addresses and WiFi access points—to the Chinese government. 

For its part, TikTok’s policy does state that it collects information when a person uses the app, but it says that the app is governed by U.S. privacy laws. 

Most critics, however, don’t necessarily believe the claim, especially since it’s difficult to validate. It doesn’t also account for data privacy concerns before February 2019, when it was slapped with a $5.7 million fine after settling with federal regulators over concerns that it illegally collected information of kids under age 13, a violation of U.S. child privacy laws.

But how will TikTok divest? An NPR report says that it could be similar to what happened with popular gay dating app Grindr, according to a person knowledgeable with the acquisition. Earlier this year, Beijing Kunlin severed its ties with Grindr, selling it to American investors for around $608 million. 

The same fate may happen with TikTok, given that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the panel investigating the company, is the same agency that approved Grindr’s sale in March.

How the Trump administration will ban TikTok in the U.S. is still unclear. While there are methods to implement the ban, it’s clear that the move will be unprecedented—and one that will have implications the world over. (Read: The US won’t ban TikTok after all)


Ralph Gurango

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