U.S. President Donald Trump announced on Saturday that he will ban the video-sharing app TikTok.
He said he could sign an executive order on the matter later on Saturday.
US security officials have expressed concern that the app, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, could be used to collect personal data from Americans to share with the Chinese government.
TikTok denies the charges.
- Trump announces he will ban TikTok in the U.S.
Following Trump’s signal, TikTok’s general manager in the United States, Vanessa Pappas, said the app is “here (in the U.S.) for a long term”. On video, she said her team is building “the most secure of applications.”
The platform, which has been growing rapidly, has about 80 million monthly active users in the United States. The ban would be a major blow to the company ByteDance.
“As far as TikTok is concerned, we are banning it in the United States,” said Trump, who was aboard the presidential plane with reporters covering the White House.
It is not yet clear whether the American president can ban TikTok, how that ban would be enforced and what legal challenges the measure would face.
Microsoft is in talks to buy the ByteDance app, but Trump seems to doubt that this deal can be approved. On Saturday, sources quoted by Reuters news agency said ByteDance would have agreed to sell control of the app in the U.S. to Microsoft.
Trump’s announcement comes at a time of mounting tensions between him and the Chinese government on a number of issues, including trade disputes and Beijing’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
1 of 3 TikTok is at the center of a dispute between China and the USA – Photo: Getty Images / BBC
TikTok is at the center of a dispute between China and the USA – Photo: Getty Images / BBC
TikTok is a free application, a kind of short version of YouTube. Users can post videos of up to one minute and choose from a huge database of songs and filters. Videos usually have lip syncing of songs, funny scenes and unusual editing tricks.
The platform has exploded in popularity in recent years, especially with people under the age of 20.
These videos are made available to followers, but also to strangers. By default, all accounts are public, although users can restrict uploads to an approved contact list.
When a user has more than 1,000 followers, he can also broadcast live to his fans and accept digital gifts that can be exchanged for cash.
The application displays both the profile videos that the user follows and, more prominently, the content that the application chooses based on what it has watched before.
The possibility to exchange private messages is also available.
India has already blocked TikTok and other Chinese apps. Australia, which has already banned Chinese technology company Huawei and telecommunications equipment maker ZTE, is also considering banning TikTok.
Since the beginning of 2019, the app has remained at the top of the download rankings.
Confinements due to the pandemic also appear to have caused an increase in interest, leading TikTok and its sister app Douyin (available in mainland China) to an estimated two billion downloads worldwide, with around 800 million active users a month.
The application was downloaded most frequently in India, but the Delhi ban means that China is currently its main market, followed by the United States. Brazil appears in fifth place, after Indonesia.
2 of 3 With its eclectic mix of dance, comedy drawings and lip sync, TikTok has become a phenomenon among young people. – Photo: BBC
With its eclectic mix of dance, comedy drawings and lip sync, TikTok has become a phenomenon among young people. – Photo: BBC
Why Trump doesn’t like TikTok
Analysis by James Clayton, BBC technology reporter
Trump’s dislike for TikTok goes beyond just Americans’ privacy concerns.
In India, TikTok was banned after a border conflict with China – the platform ended up in a geopolitical dispute. And the same is happening in the United States. Trump’s eyes are fixed on China – and it is through this scenario that one should see the situation of TikTok in the country.
The app says it does not maintain user data in China and would never provide information to the Beijing government.
But in many ways, no matter what the app says, the fact that it belongs to a Chinese company already enough.
Nor should Trump’s previous experience with TikTok be forgotten.
Last month, users of the platform said they were able to empty a president rally in the city of Tulsa after getting tickets they had no intention of using.
And while there are Republican and conservative voices on TikTok, the profile of users in the US is generally young, liberal and left-wing.
It is hard to believe that this is not a major factor for Trump.
Why is the US concerned?
US officials and politicians raised concerns about TikTok: the data collected by ByteDance through the app may end up being passed on to the Chinese government.
TikTok operates a similar but separate version of the application in China, known as Douyin. He says that all US user data is stored in the country itself, with a backup in Singapore.
The application collects a huge amount of data about its users, including which videos are watched and commented on, location data, phone model and operating system used and even the typing pace of users when using the keys.
The arguments against the system appear to be based on the theoretical possibility that the Chinese government would force ByteDance, according to local laws, to deliver data about foreign users.
The 2017 National Security Act in China obliges any organization or citizen to “support, assist and cooperate with the state’s intelligence work”.
The company has always denied sending user data to the Chinese government.
This week, TikTok told users and regulators that it would follow a high level of transparency, including allowing revisions to its algorithms.
“We are not politicians, we do not accept political advertising and we have no (political) agenda, our only goal is to remain a dynamic and vibrant platform for everyone to enjoy,” said TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer in a post this week.
“TikTok has become the most recent target, but we are not the enemy.”
Who owns TikTok?
3 of 3 ByteDance is the parent company of TikTok – Photo: Getty Images / BBC
ByteDance is the parent company of TikTok – Photo: Getty Images / BBC
Today, ByteDance is one of the most valuable “unicorns” – as technology start-ups valued at more than $ 1 billion are called.
The company’s estimated market value is $ 78 billion, according to a Reuters report late last year. The company has invested in more than 20 startups since 2012. Among them are Lark (for messaging), Flipchat (for video chatting) and Toutia (a news aggregator).
Investors say ByteDance is close to generating $ 30 billion in revenue in 2020 – an astronomical figure compared to the nearly $ 20 billion in 2019.
Its net profit could double this year, reaching $ 7 billion, according to figures published by The Economist magazine.
The company was born in 2012, based in Beijing.
After investing in several applications, ByteDance developed the precursor to TikTok, called Douyin, which was launched locally in 2016.
In 2017, Douyin reached the international market renamed TikTok. This was in the same year that ByteDance purchased Musical.ly, inheriting more than 20 million active users, who helped expand TikTok.
ByteDance is much more than just the video app. In 2016, the company became the largest shareholder in the Indian news service BaBe.
Other successful applications include Xigua Video (a five-minute weekly video platform), Lark (an online communication service) and Vigo Video (also short videos, very popular with Chinese teenagers).
The company also manufactures cell phones and has been working since 2019 to launch its own smartphone.