Navarro told Fox News on July 12 to expect that the president will take action against social media apps for engaging in “information warfare” against the United States. These include China’s largest messaging app WeChat, owned by tech giant Tencent, and ByteDance’s TikTok, which has attracted heightened scrutiny due to surveillance and censorship concerns.
“TikTok, WeChat, I suspect the president is just getting started with those two,” Navarro told the news outlet, pointing to India’s recent ban on 59 mostly Chinese mobile apps, including TikTok and WeChat.
Navarro didn’t elaborate on whether the president was considering a U.S. ban on the Chinese-owned apps, although he said the president wouldn’t rule it out.
“TikTok and WeChat are the biggest forms of censorship on the Chinese mainland, and so expect strong action on that,” Navarro said.
“What the American people have to understand is all the data that goes into those mobile apps that kids have so much fun with and seem so convenient, it goes right to servers in China, right to the Chinese military, the Chinese Communist Party, and the agencies that want to steal our intellectual property,” he told Fox.
“Those apps can be used to steal personal and financial information for blackmail and extortion, they can be used to steal business intellectual property and proprietary secrets.”
TikTok, which isn’t available in China, has sought to distance itself from ByteDance to appeal to a global audience, and claims to be independent of the Chinese regime. The company runs a similar short-form video-sharing app called Douyin within mainland China.
Meanwhile, WeChat, which has more than a billion monthly active users worldwide, is known to censor its users in China to ensure content falls within topics deemed acceptable by the Chinese Communist Party.
Navarro’s comments come after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said last week that the Trump administration is considering banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok, which is among the fastest-growing digital platforms in history.
“I don’t want to get out in front of the president, but it’s something we’re looking at,” Pompeo said.
When asked if Americans should download the app, he told Fox News, “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
U.S. lawmakers have raised national security concerns over TikTok’s handling of user data, citing Chinese laws that require domestic companies “to support and cooperate with intelligence work controlled by the Chinese Communist Party.”
In March, two Republican senators introduced a proposal aimed to ban federal employees from using TikTok on their government-issued phones, amid growing national security concerns around the collection and sharing of data on U.S. users with the Chinese communist regime.
Amazon requested employees remove the video-sharing app from their phones by July 10 due to “security risks,” while the U.S. Navy banned TikTok from government-issued mobile devices last year, saying the app represents a “cybersecurity threat.”
Reuters contributed to this report.