President Donald Trump on July 31 said he will bar the TikTok social media app from operating in the United States.
“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Trump said he would use an executive order to ban the app as early as Saturday. He also signaled he would not support an American company buying TikTok.
TikTok is owned by a Beijing-based company ByteDance. Trump’s announcement came shortly after reports surfaced that Microsoft was in talks about buying TikTok. Those news followed on the heels of rumors that Trump is considering signing an executive order to demand that ByteDance sell its U.S. stake in TikTok to alleviate concerns that the app is sending sensitive data to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
TikTok is the fastest growing video platform in the world and is extremely popular with young people in the United States.
Cyber experts warn that the app acts as spyware for the Chinese regime. The company has denied these claims and sought to distance itself from its Beijing owner, pointing to its American board members and new chief executive. It says its servers are located in the United States and Singapore, and that it would not share user data with the Chinese regime if requested.
The House of Representatives on July 20 voted on a measure to ban TikTok from all government-issued devices.
India banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps in June, saying they posed threats to the country’s “security and sovereignty.” The Pentagon last December ordered military personnel to delete TikTok from government devices.
Wells Fargo recently instructed employees to remove TikTok, while the Democratic and Republican national committees have warned their staff against using the app.
Meanwhile, a U.S. panel is conducting a national security review of ByteDance’s $1 billion acquisition of social media app Musical.ly—which was rebranded to TikTok—in 2017.
In 2019, TikTok paid a $5.7 million fine to settle U.S. government charges that it had illegally collected personal information from users under the age of 13 in violation of child privacy laws. Federal agencies are currently looking into whether the company has complied with this agreement, according to Reuters.
South Korea recently fined TikTok over similar privacy breaches.
Elements of activist hacking group Anonymous also recently turned its attention on the social media app. A Twitter account linked to the group posted on July 1: “Delete TikTok now; if you know someone that is using it, explain to them that it is essentially malware operated by the Chinese government running a massive spying operation.”
The Twitter post shared a Reddit post by an engineer who claimed to have reverse-engineered the app and found that it was collecting an enormous amount of personal information—much more than other social media apps like Facebook and Twitter—and went to great lengths to hide this. This information has not been confirmed by security researchers. The Reddit user “bangorlol” has since created a subreddit to share data for independent researchers to investigate.
A report by security research firm Penetrum found that the app does an “excessive amount of data harvesting.”
“From our understanding and our analysis it seems that TikTok does an excessive amount of tracking on its users, and that the data collected is partially if not fully stored on Chinese servers with the ISP [internet service provider] Alibaba,” the report said. Alibaba is a major internet company in China.
Recently, TikTok users ran an iPhone software that lets them know when an app is collecting their data, and found that TikTok was copying their keystrokes every few seconds. The company said it was actually an “anti-spam” feature and issued an update removing it. Back in March, it was caught by security researchers doing the same thing, and had said it would stop the practice within “a few weeks.”
Bowen Xiao and Cathy He contributed to this report.