Trump goes after TikTok: Everything you need to know

Trump goes after TikTok: Everything you need to know


TikTok, popular with teenagers, allows users to add music and effects to short videos.

Angela Lang / CNET

This story is part of Generation China, CNET’s series that examines the nation’s technological ambitions.

Tick ​​tack, an app known for bizarre, short videos, is exposed to political heat due to its links with China.

US President Donald Trump has stepped up his campaign against the short-form video app and is reportedly ready to order the Chinese parent company Divestment of its US operations. According to Bloomberg, the order could be received on Friday afternoon. According to the New York Times, Microsoft is said to be interested in buying the app. (Microsoft declined to comment, and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based technology company, and has caught the attention of the Trump administration and other parts of the government Concerns that it gathers information about Americans that could be handed over to the Chinese government. The USA army and marine have banned service members from downloading the app to government-issued phones. Earlier this month, the US House of Representatives voted to ban the use of TikTok on all government-issued phones. The Senate is expected to adopt the measure. The Trump administration is also considering banning the app.

The United States is not alone in its concerns. India has already banned TikTokand Australia is also considering blocking the app.

The growing concerns come as TikTok sees its popularity skyrocket. The app has got a new boost from that Coronavirus pandemicand attracts people who want to escape the boredom of lockdown. According to the research company Sensor Tower, it was downloaded more than 2 billion times, and 623 million came in the first half of this year. India was the largest market, followed by Brazil and the United States. (TikTok is not available in China, where ByteDance distributes a domestic version called Douyin.)

In a move that could help some legislators, TikTok said this on July 22 plans to hire 10,000 people in the U.S. in the next three years. The company announced plans to add engineering, sales, content moderation, and customer service roles in California, New York, Texas, Florida, and Tennessee.

According to The Guardian, TikTok has also suspended calls to house its international headquarters in the UK due to concerns over a trade war between the UK and China.

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Why the US could try to ban TikTok


Here’s what you need to know about the political backlash against TikTok:

Why is the Trump administration worried about TikTok?

Politicians are concerned that the Chinese government could use the video app to spy on US citizens. In an interview with Fox News that aired on July 6, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that users who download the app “put private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” Trump cited another reason: punishing China for responding to the corona virus. When asked about Pompeo’s statements, Trump confirmed that the U.S. is considering banning TikTok. “It’s big business,” Trump said during an interview with Gray Television. “Look, what happened to China with this virus, what they did to this country and the world is a shame.”


Generation China is a CNET series that deals with the technology areas in which the country wants to be a leader.

Brett Pearce / CNET

Trump’s and Pompeo’s comments followed TikTok users and K-Pop fans said they helped spoil participation in a June presidential meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by reserving thousands of tickets online with no intention of attending. Trump supporters have a visible presence Tick ​​tackA ban on the app could also work against the president during an election year.

On July 12, White House trade advisor Peter Navarro told Fox Business that TikTok and the WeChat messaging app are “the largest forms of censorship in mainland China” and “strong action in this area” is expected. He did not indicate whether a ban would come.

TikTok’s access to US user data may be worth investigating. There will always be concerns when apps from overseas companies collect large amounts of user data, said technology policy expert Betsy Cooper, director of the Aspen Policy Hub.

She added, “It is unclear how much effort the administration will make to assess the severity of specific security concerns with the app, rather than using it as a threat to broader geopolitical leverage.”

How did TikTok react?

Privacy and national security concerns are nothing new to TikTok, and attempts are being made to defend themselves against political control. In the 2019 blog post, TikTok said that all U.S. user data in the U.S. is saved with a backup in Singapore. TikTok also said that its data centers are outside of China and that none of its data is subject to Chinese law.

“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of security, product, and public order executives and executives here in the United States,” said a TikTok spokesman in a statement to Pompeo’s comments. “We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, and we would not do so if asked to do so.”

Can the United States Make ByteDance Sell Its US Activities?

In general, the federal government can require the sale of a company through the United States Foreign Investment Committee. This panel, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is already investigating TikTok for national security concerns. The investigation, which was first reported in November 2019, may require changes to TikTok’s key U.S. operations, including a sale of its U.S. operations.

The committee is responsible for reviewing foreign ownership and control of companies in the United States. ByteDance gained a foothold in the United States when it bought, an American company that bought ByteDance for $ 800 million in 2017 and then renamed it TikTok. The acquisition helped TikTok gain a foothold in US teenagers.

There is a precedent for Chinese companies that sell part of their business. In March, Chinese company Kunlun agreed to sell its majority stake in the gay dating app Grindr after the committee raised concerns about national security.

Are there other ways the US government can take TikTok away?

According to analysts, the government could also try to find a legal reason to urge Apple and Google to get TikTok out of their app stores. And the companies could fight back.

“The tech community will be very reluctant to agree to this app ban,” said Wayne Lam, an independent technology analyst. “It is a precedent for the government to ban other apps, or even other global apps that are not accessible to the US market.”

Even if the app is locked, users can install apps on Android devices without having to download them from the Google Play Store, said Carolina Milanesi, tech analyst at Creative Strategies.

“I don’t know how to monitor this at this point,” said Milanesi.

The US Department of Commerce could also put TikTok on its “Entity” list and restrict the company’s access to US technology, she said. Chinese technology company Huawei is already on this list. Adding TikTok to the list would mean the app won’t be approved in the Google or Apple store, she said.

Lam said the US government could block traffic to TikTok, but that such an approach “would likely not be successful given our legal systems.”

The New York Times reported, citing people familiar with considerations, that the Trump administration wants to take a step against TikTok under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act. This law allows the President to regulate international trade after declaring a national emergency in response to an unusual or unusual threat to the United States.

Can the government prohibit the use of a specific app?

The administration has limited powers to make certain software, such as an app, illegal. But it could potentially work for Congress to pass laws targeting TikTok, said Kurt Opsahl, general counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group.

Opsahl said at the moment: “There is no law that would allow the federal government to prohibit ordinary Americans from using an app.”

Other countries prohibit certain apps, and some have the option to block Internet work at the network level. This would be extremely difficult to achieve in the United States, said Arturo Filasto, co-founder of the Open Observatory of Network Interference, which analyzes internet censorship in countries around the world. “There is no central place where you can implement a unified filter strategy, as is the case in countries like China and Iran,” said Filasto.

Instead, the government would have to order all ISPs in the country to block the app. Even if they all followed the order, there is no guarantee that TikTok would not find a way to circumvent these blocking efforts, Filasto said.

Sounds like banning TikTok and the app stores is challenging. What would you probably do?

Any scenario would create opportunities for legal challenges. A law or executive regulation targeting TikTok could pose a challenge as part of the first change, Opsahl said. The challenges would be based on previous judgments that show that “code is language,” said Opsahl. Among those decisions was Bernstein v DOJ, in which the court found that a computer scientist had the right to publish an encryption algorithm.

In addition, Apple and Google could push back all TikTok removal orders from their app stores and contest a potential executive order or fines imposed by the retail department after TikTok was added to the entity list.

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