Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said In an interview with Fox News on Monday that the U.S. is “definitely considering” restricting TikTok and other Chinese (social media) apps. There was also talk of reviving national security and privacy concerns of China’s tech giants, and fuelling a front in the trade war between the US administration and Beijing.
Pompeo said the government has been “working on this issue for a very long time,” adding that Americans should download the popular video-sharing app only “if they want their private data to end up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
Pompeo’s remarks follow months of concern from senators, both Republicans and Democrats, who see TikTok- one of China’s most prominent technology companies – as a threat to national security.
Last year, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N. Y.) and Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) requested an investigation by the national intelligence services into the application. This was due to the fear that the Chinese Communist government would force TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, to transmit data on American users, and to censor information critical of the Chinese authorities.
TikTok has repeatedly denied allegations of data sharing with Beijing and censorship. The company has taken significant steps to try to allay U.S. lawmakers’ security concerns, including recently hiring Disney executive Kevin Mayer as CEO of TikTok and chief operating officer of ByteDance. TikTok also promised that data from international users will not be stored on servers in China.
Mike Pompeo told Fox News: “Whether it’s the problems with integrating Huawei technology into your infrastructure, we’ve been all over the world and we’re making real progress in getting things done. We have declared that the ZTE (Zhongxing Telecommunication Equipment Company Limited) is a danger to U.S. national security. As far as Chinese applications on people’s mobile phones are concerned, the United States will also be able to get the message across.”
According to Statista, the number of American users of TikTok is 45 million.
TikTok is abandoning operations in Hong Kong after Beijing imposed a controversial national security law that critics say will stifle already limited freedoms, including freedom of expression, promised during the handover of the former British colony. The new law gives Beijing broad powers to crack down on what it sees as subversion, and could have implications for data security, critics say.
ByteDance is one of the pearls of China’s technology ecosystem and proof that local companies can compete with Silicon Valley giants on the international stage. This success has made it a target in the trade war between the United States and China.
Pompeo’s comments are the latest in a long series of national security threats targeting china’s growing technology companies. Smartphone maker Huawei has been another key target of the U.S. administration, which says the company is one of 20 companies operating in the U.S. and owned and controlled by the Chinese military. The US president has severely reduced trade with the world’s second-largest smartphone maker amid a trade war with China. The administration also tried to convince allied intelligence services to exclude Huawei and telecommunications equipment company ZTE from their 5G networks.