The United States government is considering banning the popular app TikTok, as well as other Chinese social media apps, because they pose a national security threat, according to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
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“Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” Pompeo said Monday when asked by Fox News host Laura Ingraham if Americans should download TikTok.
TikTok is owned by Beijing based technology company ByteDance, which was founded in 2012 by Chinese billionaire Zhang Yiming.
The app bills itself as “the leading destination for short-form mobile video.” It allows users to stitch together multiple clips and edit the creation with filters and video effects to make 60-second compilations.
The quirky, shareable videos have led to a massive boom in downloads. Mobile app intelligence firm Sensor Tower said in April that TikTok reached two billion downloads, and that the company had the most downloads for any app ever in the first quarter of 2020 at 315 million installs.
Zhang has reaped the benefits, amassing a net worth of $13 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which makes him the 22nd richest person in China.
But as TikTok has grown across the globe, American officials have grown increasingly suspect of the way it captures, uses, and shares data.
Pompeo and other officials are mainly concerned with China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, which says that Chinese companies must not only share data with the Chinese government if requested, but also maintain secrecy about it.
“Any organization or citizen shall support, assist, and cooperate with state intelligence work in accordance with the law, and maintain the secrecy of all knowledge of state intelligence work,” Article 7 of the law states.
The American government has already designated Chinese telecommunications giants Huawei and ZTE as “national security threats.” Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai explained last month how Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE can be forced to work with the Chinese government.
“What we found was that these two companies, Huawei and ZTE, had ties to the Chinese Communist Party, had ties to China’s military apparatus, the People’s Liberation Army,” Pai told Lou Dobbs Tonight. “And in addition to that, they are obligated, under Chinese law, if they get a request from the Chinese secret police, the intelligence services, they must comply with it, and they are prohibited from disclosing the fact of that request to any of their customers.”
TikTok and its parent company ByteDance have tried to distance themselves from the Chinese government and denies that they are a security threat.
“The Chinese government has never asked us to provide access to any TikTok U.S. user data, and we would not do so if asked,” a ByteDance spokesperson told the Wall Street Journal last year.
TikTok did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
There is some evidence that TikTok at least tries to appease Beijing though. The Guardian reported on leaked documents from the company last year that showed TikTok tries to advance Chinese foreign policy aims globally. It also instructs its moderators to censor content that mentions Tiananmen Square, Tibetan Independence, and Falun Gong, a banned religious group.