President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign is pushing ads that urge supporters to back a TikTok ban, accusing the app of “spying” on Americans. The ad campaign comes after Trump staff members discussed potentially banning the app, which is primarily popular among teens.
“TikTok has been caught red handed by monitoring what is on your phone’s Clipboard,” the ads say. These advertisements also link to a survey and mailing list asking users if the US should ban TikTok.
Is TikTok Really Spying?
The clipboard mention is in reference to research conducted by research group Mysk, CNN reports. Mysk found that TikTok, and other apps, were accessing the contents of iPhone users’ clipboards. When iPhone users copy and paste, the data is stored on clipboards. Apps accessing the feature, often used for sensitive information like passwords, is a cause of concern for many.
TikTok addressed the security concern last month, saying there were “many legitimate reasons” why apps like TikTok access clipboard data. For TikTok, they were trying to solve the app’s comment spam issue.
“In this case, we had been working to address the problem of spam and incidents where users sometimes post the same comments on hundreds of videos. Our technology allowed us to identify users who were copying comments and placing them over and over in the comment section for different videos. We took this as a signal that the user had an agenda, such as promoting themselves to gain followers, or trolling other users,” a blog post explained.
Now that the research is being used in Trump ads. Mysk tweeted out that their research also found other apps accessing clipboards, not just TikTok. They wrote, “Trump campaign is using our clipboard research for political gain. This is sad.”
Why the TikTok Ban?
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US government was “looking at” banning TikTok on national security grounds. The conversation sparked after India banned TikTok and other Chinese apps, reasoning that they were “a threat to sovereignty and integrity.” ByteDance, a Beijing-based company, owns TikTok.
Pompeo also said Americans should only use the app “if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
In a follow-up statement, TikTok stated they didn’t have ties to the Chinese government.
“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the US,” a TikTok spokesperson said, according to CNN. “We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users. We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”
This isn’t the first TikTok-related clash for the Trump campaign. Several TikTok users have taken it upon themselves to sabotage elements of the Trump reelection campaign. It began with creating fake reservations for Trump’s infamous Tulsa rally with the intention to leave the venue empty. Their latest attempt? Filling carts with millions of dollars with of Trump merch on its website so it all appeared sold out.