U.S. Banning TikTok Would Affect Tens of Millions of Americans

A U.S. ban of social media app TikTok could impact millions of American users, with the platform having surged in popularity in recent months.

Political pressure mounted on the Chinese-owned app this week after secretary of state Mike Pompeo suggested it could be outlawed in the U.S. over national data security concerns, similar to action previously against tech firms Huawei and ZTE.

TikTok, which is focused on short form video content, is owned by a company based in Beijing called ByteDance, although the version in China is known as Douyin. Since May, TikTok has been led by former Disney streaming executive Kevin Mayer.

It denies sharing U.S. user data with the Chinese government, a fear repeatedly voiced by politicians in recent years, especially as the app's downloads spiked.

In the first quarter of this year, TikTok enjoyed 165 million installs by U.S. users via the App Store and Google Play Store, according to analysis from Sensor Tower.

In that period, TikTok reportedly had the "the most downloads for any app ever" in a quarter, attracting more than 315 million installs globally, analytics suggested.

"While TikTok was on the ascent before 2020, the app has hit new levels of popularity so far this year. Its record-breaking Q1 came during a global pandemic, leading in part to an increase in downloads, engagement, and revenue," the firm said in April.

How many daily active users TikTok has remains unclear, and downloads or installs are not an indicator of how many U.S. users log on or upload daily. AdAge reported in 2019, citing a leaked pitch desk, the app had 30 million daily active users in the States.

The company has not released statistics about such metrics. A TikTok spokesperson told Newsweek: "We don't provide any data on user numbers at all."

In comments during "The Ingraham Angle" on Monday, Pompeo confirmed the U.S. was "looking at" TikTok, saying the administration was concerned about security.

"We have worked on this very issue for a long time, whether it's the problem of having Huawei technology in your infrastructure... we had declared ZTE a danger to American national security. We have done all of these things," he told the Fox host. "I don't want to get out in front of the president but it's something we are looking at."

When asked if U.S. citizens should download and use TikTok, Pompeo said: "Only if you want your private information in the the hands of the Chinese Communist Party." His comments came after India banned TikTok and other apps over security concerns.

In response to the secretary of state's comments, a TikTok spokesperson told CNN in a statement: "TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy 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." Similar assurances were released after criticism in November 2019.

At the time, senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York) had requested an assessment of the national security risks of the application.

"We store all TikTok U.S. user data in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore. Our data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law," TikTok said in a blog post published online.

TikTok, like U.S. firms including Google, Facebook and Twitter, said this week it would halt app operations in Hong Hong in response to a controversial new security law.

TikTok
An Indian mobile user browses through the Chinese owned video-sharing 'Tik Tok' app on a smartphone in Bangalore on June 30, 2020. MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty