The Trump administration is weighing whether to ban the popular Chinese social media app TikTok.
"I don’t want to get out in front of the president but it’s something we’re looking at."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the private information of American users could be turned over to China's Communist government. Experts say TikTok poses a threat, but to what extent is unclear.
"I absolutely am concerned about these security risks," says Lindsay Gorman, a fellow for emerging technologies at the Alliance for Securing Democracy. "And I think it's important to remember that TikTok isn't just any Chinese social media app. It's one of the fastest-growing in the world and extraordinarily popular in the United States."
"You still have to always ask, you know, under what situations would companies turn over data to the Chinese government? I don't think it's the case that, for example, all of TikTok's data is flowing back to China," said the practice head of geo-technology at the Eurasia Group.
The potential ban comes as tensions between Washington and Beijing persist, with President Donald Trump faulting China for the coronavirus pandemic.
On the app, users share short video. And recently, some said they pranked a presidential rally by registering to attend and not showing up.
"Oh no, I signed up for a Trump rally, and I can’t go," said on TikTok user, pretending to cough. "I’m sick."
"I would not jump to a rationale that this is just a political motive, because I think there are real underlying concerns here. But of course, in an election year, one can never ignore the politics of the moment," says Gorman.
TikTok denies having ties to the Chinese government, telling Newsy it's led by an American CEO and has “never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked."
The company also announced it’s pulling out of Hong Kong stores after Beijing imposed a new national security law that would require tech firms to comply with Chinese government requests for data.
"I don't think it's prudent just to take those claims at face value, especially when we've seen concerning evidence so far," says Gorman. "For example, last fall, during the height of the Hong Kong protests, there were reports that TikTok was preferentially censoring content related to the protests that was deemed unfavorable to the Chinese Communist Party."
TikTok recently lost a giant market after India banned the app. But it’s yet to be seen what the U.S. will do after the government began investigating TikTok and parent company, ByteDance, last year.
"U.S. government users are not supposed to use apps like TikTok," says Triolo. "I think we're in a little bit of uncharted waters here in terms of how this goes forward. But I would expect to see the U.S. government itself, which is one thing, ban the use of these apps more formally."
Sasha Ingber, Newsy, Washington.