TikTok Ban? President Trump 'Just Getting Started,' White House Adviser Says

As speculation swirls about a possible TikTok ban in the U.S., a top White House adviser has indicated fresh restrictions are indeed imminent.

The short form video app—which is hugely popular with teens and boasts millions of American users—has become a major politicial talking point in recent weeks.

It is currently led by an American CEO, former Disney streaming executive Kevin Mayer, but is owned by a Beijing-based technology startup called ByteDance.

Like Huawei before it, TikTok has been flagged as a national security concern by elected officials, who called for investigations into how it handles U.S. user data.

In late June, the app was banned in India for threatening "sovereignty and integrity," and suggestions the White House could soon follow suit were teased by U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo and the president himself during interviews last week.

Speaking with Fox News on Sunday, trade adviser Peter Navarro was the latest to voice the opinion that both TikTok and WeChat, a popular chat app widely used in China that is broadly similar to WhatsApp, may soon be outlawed in the states.

"TikTok and WeChat, I suspect that the president is just getting started with those two," Navarro said during a segment on the Sunday Morning Futures show.

While his arguments appeared to be a list of political talking points—describing Trump rival Joe Biden as "the candidate of the Chinese Communist Party"—Navarro said the apps could be used for hijacking information, surveillance and extortion.

"All the data that goes into those mobile apps that kids have so much fun with... it goes right to servers in China, right to the Chinese military, the Chinese Communist Party and the agencies which want to steal our intellectual property," he claimed.

"The worst thing they use them for, besides surveilling and tracking... is [to] engage in information warfare against the American people, against this president. The Chinese Communist Party wants Joe Biden more than anything right now," he added.

The White House adviser didn't elaborate on a time-scale for enforcement, but said the Trump administration is "looking very closely" at TikTok, which has repeatedly denied that it shares data with the Chinese government, despite U.S. accusations.

The White House has been contacted for comment.

Referencing reports that TikTok may change its structure to distance itself from China, Navarro said it wouldn't matter and called Mayer an "American puppet."

Also like Huawei, experts told Wired there has been little evidence made public to back up U.S. assertions that TikTok is a major risk. A full national security review into the app was reportedly launched last November. Its findings, if any, remain unclear.

"Is TikTok a national security threat or is it another punchbag in the middle of the U.S.-China trade war? Potentially both," Tim Stevens, a lecturer in global security at King's College London, told the magazine in an article published today.

According to TikTok, U.S. data is stored in the U.S with a backup in Singapore, although a post last April appeared to suggest some user data passed through China.

"Our goal is to minimize data access across regions so that, for example, employees in the APAC region, including China, would have very minimal access to user data from the EU and US," it said at the time, noting it would limit access to such information.

A TikTok spokesperson previously told Newsweek: "TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders... here in the U.S. 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."

In the past week, as political criticism spiked, some companies urged employees not to download or use TikTok, blaming issues with data handling and privacy.

Last Friday, Amazon called on staff to remove the app from their devices, citing security concerns, but later said the notice had been sent by mistake. Wells Fargo has also told its employees to purge the app from their phones, The Information reported.

The Democratic and Republican national committees have both made similar requests, urging workers to exercise caution when using the app, according to CNN.

When asked about the Amazon situation on Sunday, Navarro told the Fox News host it had showcased the "power of the Chinese Communist Party on corporate America."

TikTok
In this photo illustration the logo of Chinese media app for creating and sharing short videos, TikTok, also known as Douyin is displayed on the screen of a smartphone in front of a Chinese flag on December 26, 2019 in Paris, France. Chesnot/Getty