President Donald Trump could force TikTok to sell its U.S. operations, according to reports citing people familiar with the matter.
The White House has escalated concerns over the popular video-sharing app in recent weeks over its ownership by ByteDance, a Chinese company. Chinese law can oblige any national company to transmit the data it has collected on users.
“We are watching TikTok. We may be banning TikTok. We may be doing other things, ”Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday morning. “We are looking for many alternatives to TikTok.”
While TikTok is widely viewed as an app for young people, it tracks phone locations and user metadata, like many apps, and China has a clear appetite for Americans’ personal data. TikTok has also faced repeated accusations of censoring content not appealing to Beijing, raising concerns that the app’s popularity may serve as an extension of China’s influence.
Since November, the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States, which investigates foreign acquisitions of American properties for potential threats to national security, has been examining ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly, the lip-syncing app. owned by Chinese which it merged with TikTok. .
Microsoft is in talks to purchase the app, The New York Times reported on Friday. Microsoft declined to comment.
Earlier this month, Larry Kudlow, Trump’s chief economic adviser, said he had been told the prospective buyer “will be a 100 percent American company.”
TikTok has repeatedly claimed to be an independent company, free from Chinese influence or domestic companies’ data rights claims. But on Wednesday, Wang Wenbin, spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, said China views TikTok as a national enterprise. The app is not available in mainland China.
Trump and members of his administration have repeatedly said China should be punished for its role in allowing the coronavirus to spread to the United States. Banning TikTok could be part of such retaliation, Secretary of State Mike said Pompeo earlier this month.
“When it comes to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, the United States will do it,” he told Fox News in early July.
TikTok declined to confirm a potential sale.
“While we don’t comment on rumors or speculation, we are confident in the long-term success of TikTok,” TikTok spokesperson Ashley Nash-Hahn said. “Hundreds of millions of people come to TikTok to be entertained and to connect, including our community of creators and artists who are building livelihoods from the platform. “
In June, TikTok teens claimed they orchestrated a lower than expected turnout at Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, after a viral push to book tickets they did not intend to use in an attempt to humiliate the president with an empty arena.
Trump was reportedly “furious” at the “disappointing” crowd, NBC reported.