Donald Trump Jr. took to social media to criticize TikTok and express concerns about the potential for Chinese interference, in a seven-minute video posted to Triller, which he touted as an “American company.”
Trump Jr.’s video comes just days before the Sept. 15 deadline that President Donald Trump set for a sale of TikTok. The president has pressured the popular short-form video app to sell its U.S. business over concerns that its ties to China via its parent company, ByteDance, posted a threat to national security. Trump alleged that ByteDance could be forced by the Chinese government to hand over data on Americans. TikTok has denied this and stated its data is stored outside of China, suggesting it’s not subject to Chinese authority.
In an executive order last month, Trump banned U.S. companies from doing business with ByteDance and alleged that TikTok poses risks that amount to a “national emergency.” The order alleges that the app collects “vast swaths” of data and “threatens to allow” Chinese officials to track Americans.
Microsoft and Walmart were competing against Oracle and other bidders to land a deal for TikTok’s U.S. operations. But the potential for an agreement hit a snag earlier this week after China imposed new restrictions on technology exports that could require TikTok to get government approval before it is able to sell its all-important algorithm. With the deadline quickly approaching, the app could be banned before a deal is reached.
In his video on Triller, Trump Jr. talked about the “dumb things” that kids do and how it can live on forever on social media. But he also claimed that TikTok reach could be more nefarious.
“When you have an app like TikTok where the Chinese government could be turning on your kid’s camera, turning on your kid’s video, listening in, turning on their mic at any random time not just when they’re using the app,” Trump Jr. said. “This goes so much further. Having access to all your photos and contacts and emails and the spyware that’s there. I mean this is something that could haunt your kids forever.”
Trump Jr. then openly endorsed Triller, saying he’d “much rather be with a company like Triller that is an American company.”
Cybersecurity experts note that China’s laws enable its government to pressure companies such as ByteDance to provide access to user information, but they note there’s no evidence that this has happened to date. Also, many American and other international companies have access to similar amounts of user data.
Triller, which launched in 2015 before TikTok launched in 2017, claims its app has been downloaded more than 250 million times worldwide and that it has roughly 65 million active users. (It threatened to sue when a report issued by an app intelligence company Apptopia alleged those numbers were inflated.) TikTok claimed in a statement detailing its efforts to sue over Trump’s executive order that it has been downloaded by 100 million users in the U.S. alone.
Trump Jr.’s video comes amid heightened tension between the U.S. and China as they square off over the reach of their homegrown technology companies. In his wide-ranging commentary, Trump Jr. also criticized China for its handling of the coronavirus.
“They lied to the world about its virulence. They lied to the world about the way it was transmitted. They minimized the threat to the world,” Trump Jr. said. “You think they’re going to be good with your data? You think they’re going to not weaponize your kids’ data eventually against them?”