As we all know, U.S. President Donald Trump isn’t one to forget the people or things he believes have “wronged” him. It therefore comes as no surprise that Trump’s campaign has launched an online ad campaign urging his supporters to sign a “petition” to ban TikTok weeks after apparently getting trolled by teens on the platform and K-Pop fans.
According to Bloomberg, the Trump campaign is running the ads, which started appearing in users’ feeds on Friday, on Facebook and Instagram. Some of ads, captured in screenshots by Business Insider, claim that TikTok is spying on users, which is an unsubstantiated claim. They specifically reference TikTok’s accessing of user clipboard content on iOS devices, which the company promised to stop doing at the end of June.
“TikTok has been caught red handed by monitoring what is on your phone’s clipboard. Sign the petition now to BAN TikTok,” some of the ads read.
To be fair, lots of other companies, including LinkedIn and Reddit, were also caught snooping on users’ clipboards in iOS. TikTok has denied that this feature aimed to be invasive, saying that it was designed to identify “repetitive, spammy behaviour.”
Although the Trump campaign directs users to sign a “petition,” Bloomberg and New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz have found that this is actually a survey. The survey asks users for their first and last name, zip code, email and phone number. Lorenz says that this information is gathered to add the user to Trump’s mailing list.
Per Bloomberg, the ads were paid for by the Trump Make America Great Again Committee and primarily target users between 18 and 64 years of age. As of Saturday, the largest percentage of views was coming from users in battleground states for the 2020 election, including Texas and Florida.
Of course, talk of banning TikTok cannot be singularly attributed to Trump’s massive embarrassment in June, when he boasted of expecting almost a million people for his first campaign rally in months. However, that plan was apparently thwarted by TikTok teens and K-Pop fans, who took credit for registering for hundreds of thousands of free tickets and then failing to show, leaving Trump with a very empty arena.
The U.S. government has been suspicious of the Chinese-owned social media network for years, fearful that it could be pressured into providing user data to the Chinese government. This allegation remains unproven. At the beginning of July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration was considering banning TikTok as well as other apps owned by Chinese companies.
It would not be the first country to do so. In June, India banned TikTok and 58 other apps based in China, calling them “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity” of India. On the corporate side, in the U.S., Wells Fargo recently banned employees from downloading TikTok on their company devices and instructed those who have it installed to delete it immediately, citing “concerns about TikTok’s privacy and security controls and practices,” among others.
TikTok, which has an American CEO, has denied claims that it has provided user data to the Chinese government and said it would never do so.
“We have no higher priority than promoting a safe and secure app experience for our users,” the company said in July. “We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”