Trump Says He’s Banning TikTok

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From Popular Mechanics

  • President Donald Trump told reporters he plans to ban TikTok from U.S. app stores as soon as today.

  • U.S. officials are concerned with TikTok because the hugely popular, Chinese-owned app can potentially pass on users’ data to the authoritarian Chinese government.

  • U.S. companies are in talks with TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to purchase or acquire a majority stake in the app.

President Donald Trump says he’s banning TikTok in the United States, weeks after his administration first teased the idea of outlawing the enormously popular video-sharing app as part of a crackdown on Chinese-owned and -operated technology due to national security concerns.

On Friday night, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that he could use the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to institute the TikTok ban, according to a pool report via David Cloud of the Los Angeles Times. “Well, I have that authority,” Trump said. “I can do it with an executive order or that,” referring to the emergency economic powers.

Per the pool report, Trump plans to ban TikTok, which may boast as many as 70 million active users in the U.S. and more than 800 million worldwide, as soon as today.

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In July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News host Laura Ingraham that U.S. citizens should only download TikTok “if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” Pompeo’s comments followed the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) move in June to designate two Chinese companies, Huawei and ZTE, as national security threats, saying officials could no longer use money from its $8.3 billion Universal Service Fund to “purchase, obtain, maintain, improve, modify, or otherwise support any equipment or services produced or provided by these suppliers.”

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Critics say TikTok, which the Beijing-based company ByteDance owns, invades the privacy of its users, potentially passing on data—including hardware IDs, IP addresses, WiFi access points, and GPS pings—to the authoritarian Chinese government. And TikTok does acknowledge some of these claims in its privacy policy, saying it can “automatically collect certain information from you when you use the Platform, including internet or other network activity information such as your IP address, geolocation-related data … unique device identifiers, browsing and search history.”

That discrepancy in privacy policy boils down to a big difference in what the U.S. and China ultimately do with people’s data.

“China has a very different legal framework and perspective on the rule of law,” Andrea Little Limbago, chief social scientist at Virtru, an encryption and privacy company, told Popular Mechanics last year. “TikTok claims they do not store data in China, but this is difficult to validate and does not address data privacy concerns prior to February 2019.” (That’s when TikTok was fined for its data privacy usage.)

“This is especially relevant as user data could inform intelligence campaigns targeting American citizens,” Little Limbago said.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin leads, has ordered ByteDance to divest TikTok. As of Friday, ByteDance was in talks to sell TikTok to Microsoft, according to the New York Times. Another option: Non-Chinese investors could purchase a majority stake in the app to quell the U.S.’s concerns, per the Times.

So far, however, Trump doesn’t seem amenable to a U.S. company buying or assuming majority ownership of TikTok.

Part of Trump’s distaste for TikTok may stem from a covert campaign among some of the app’s young users back in June, when they reportedly purchased a large amount of tickets to the president’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma without any intention of attending the event. Shortly after the Trump administration caught wind of the scheme in the wake of poor attendance numbers in Tulsa, it began running anti-TikTok ads on Facebook.

If Trump does follow through with banning TikTok, the U.S. won’t be the first country to make the drastic move. Last month, India banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok. In a statement, India’s Ministry of Information Technology said it has received complaints from “various sources” about misuse of some iOS and Android apps for “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data in an unauthorized manner to servers outside India.”

We’ll continue to update this story as more information becomes available. In the meantime, to keep your data safe, be extra vigilant about reading the privacy policies for all of your apps—especially TikTok. Start with this simple checklist:

Additional reporting by Kristina Libby and Courtney Linder

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