US President Donald Trump said his administration is considering banning the short-video app TikTok in the US as one possible way to retaliate against China over its handling of COVID-19.
Trump’s comments on Tuesday came one day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said officials were looking at barring the app, whose parent company is China’s ByteDance Ltd (字節跳動).
“It’s something we’re looking at, yes,” Trump said when asked in an interview with Gray Television’s Greta Van Susteren about Pompeo’s remarks. “It’s a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful.”
Trump did not offer any specifics about a potential decision. He said that banning TikTok is “one of many” ways he is looking to hit back at the Chinese government over the novel coronavirus, which has infected nearly 3 million people in the US and killed more than 131,000.
In a separate, but related development, the short-video app is the subject of an inquiry by the US Federal Trade Commission and US Department of Justice over its data practices, according to a children’s privacy advocate who has said he was interviewed by the agencies.
Several privacy groups in May alleged that the app, which is popular with teens, was collecting information about children under 13 without parental permission, in contravention of US privacy law and an earlier commission settlement.
A TikTok spokesperson said that the company “takes the issue of safety seriously for all our users, and we continue to further strengthen our safeguards and introduce new measures to protect young people on the app.”
The spokesperson also cited initiatives to teach children online safety, allow parents greater control and place some restrictions on users under 13.
TikTok played up its US ties and said it does not feed user data to China, pushing back against comments by Pompeo, who said the government was weighing a ban in part over concerns about its ownership.
“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 company spokesperson said. “We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”
TikTok last month hired former Walt Disney Co executive Kevin Mayer as chief executive officer. He also serves as chief operating officer of ByteDance.
Calling attention to India’s move last week to ban almost 60 Chinese apps, including TikTok, Fox News host Laura Ingraham asked Pompeo whether the Trump administration would also consider banning the app in the US.
“We’re certainly looking at it,” Pompeo said.
He then recommended Americans not download the app unless they want to see their private information fall “in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Pompeo joins other US government officials, including US senators Marco Rubio and Chuck Schumer, who have called for investigations of TikTok over possible threats to national security.
The US government has also launched a national security review of ByteDance’s acquisition of Musical.ly, a start-up that later merged with TikTok.
In the US, TikTok has been downloaded more than 165 million times, according to SensorTower Inc estimates.
TikTok has denied allegations that it poses a threat to US national security.
In a public show of support for protecting user data from the Chinese government, TikTok on Monday said that it would cease operations in Hong Kong over national security legislation that compels social media apps to hand over user data to Beijing.
TikTok operates a separate version of its app in China called Douyin (抖音).
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