President Donald Trump may force TikTok to sell its U.S. operations, according to reports citing people familiar with the matter.
The White House has ramped up its concerns about the popular video-sharing app in recent weeks over its ownership by ByteDance, a Chinese company. Chinese law can compel any domestic company to hand over data it has collected on users.
“We’re looking at TikTok. We may be banning TikTok. We may be doing some others things,” Trump told reporters at the White House Friday morning. “We are looking at a lot of alternatives with respect to TikTok.”
While TikTok is largely seen as an app for young people, it tracks phone locations and users’ metadata, like many apps, and China has a demonstrated appetite for Americans’ personal data. TikTok has also faced repeated accusations of censoring content unappetizing to Beijing, prompting fears that the app’s popularity serves as an extension of China’s influence.
Since November, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which investigates foreign acquisitions of U.S. properties for potential national security threats, has been looking into ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly, the Chinese-owned lip-syncing app it merged with TikTok.
Microsoft is in talks to purchase the app, the New York Times reported Friday. Microsoft declined comment.
Earlier this month, Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, said he had been informed the eventual buyer “will be a one hundred percent American company.”
TikTok has repeatedly claimed to be an independent company, free of China’s influence or demands for rights to domestic companies’ data. But on Wednesday, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, indicated China views TikTok as a domestic company. The app is not available in mainland China.
Trump and members of his administration have repeatedly said China should be punished for its role in allowing the coronavirus to spread to the U.S. Banning TikTok could be part of that retaliation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said earlier this month.
“With respect to Chinese apps on peoples’ cellphones, the United States will get this one right,” he told Fox News in early July.
TikTok declined to confirm a potential sale.
“While we do not comment on rumors or speculation, we are confident in the long-term success of TikTok,” TikTok spokesperson Ashley Nash-Hahn said. “Hundreds of millions of people come to TikTok for entertainment and connection, including our community of creators and artists who are building livelihoods from the platform.”
In June, teens on TikTok claimed they had orchestrated a lower-than-expected turnout at Trump’s Tulsa campaign rally, after a viral effort to reserve tickets they had no intention of using in an attempt to humiliate the president with an empty arena.
Trump was said to be “furious” at the “underwhelming” crowd, NBC reported.