Social media app TikTok has become the subject of international intrigue in recent weeks. Largely known for silly viral challenges, the app is lately coming under scrutiny for possible ties to the Chinese government. Now, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the US government is “looking at” a ban of TikTok on national security grounds.
A Possible US Ban?
“We’re taking this very seriously,” Pompeo told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham on Monday, July 6. The Secretary of State was appearing as a guest on Ingraham’s television show when the subject of banning Chinese social media apps came up.
“With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too, Laura,” Pompeo said in response to the possibility of a TikTok ban. “I don’t want to get out in front of the president, but it’s something we’re looking at.”
Potential Ties to China
TikTok is owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, a connection that has caused concern as China ramps up tensions with Hong Kong and India. Officials in India announced last week that they would be banning TikTok and other Chinese apps, calling them “a threat to sovereignty and integrity.”
On Ingraham’s show, Pompeo said that Americans should only use the app “if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
In response to these concerns, TikTok released a statement disavowing any connection 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.”
TikTok has also announced that it will be pulling out of Hong Kong following a strict national security law imposed by the Chinese government. The law would give police the authority to punish social media companies who don’t comply with government requests for data, reports The Cut.
A History of Concerns
This isn’t the first time TikTok has dealt with concerns of national security. Last November, the US launched an investigation into ByteDance, questioning whether the company censored political content and how it stored its data.
However, TikTok has said that it operates separately from ByteDance, with data centers located outside of China and not subject to Chinese law, according to CNN. The app reportedly stores US user data in the United States, with a backup in Singapore. In May, a spokesperson for the company reportedly told CNN that national security concerns surrounding the app were “unfounded.”