Trump Regime Might Ban TikTok and Other Apps Owned by Chinese Tech Companies

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department in Washington D.C. on July 1, 2020. (Photo: Mauel Balce Cenata, Getty Images)
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department in Washington D.C. on July 1, 2020. (Photo: Mauel Balce Cenata, Getty Images)

The Trump regime is considering a U.S. ban on the popular music and dance app TikTok, as well as other apps owned by Chinese companies, according to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. TikTok is one of the most popular apps in the world, with roughly 800 million users globally, but the Trump regime believes user data on the platform could be funneled to the Chinese government, an allegation that has not been substantiated.

“I don’t want to get out in front of the president, but it’s something we’re looking at,” Secretary Pompeo told Fox News’s Laura Ingraham on Monday night when asked about a potential ban of TikTok.

Pompeo explained the U.S. has been aggressive in restricting the way that Chinese tech companies can operate on American soil, citing recent bans on Huawei that have effectively shut the company out of the U.S. market.

“We’ve worked on this very issue for a long time, whether it was the problems of having Huawei technology in your infrastructure — we’ve gone all over the world and we’re making real progress getting that out — we have declared ZTE a danger to national security,” Pompeo said. “With respect to Chinese apps on people’s mobile phones I can assure you the United States will get this one right too.”

“Would you recommend that people download that app on their phones, tonight, tomorrow, anytime currently?” Ingraham asked rhetorically.

“Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Community Party,” Pompeo said.

TikTok, owned by Beijing-based tech company Bytedance, is not available on the Chinese mainland and the company denies that it’s beholden to the Chinese government. TikTok told Gizmodo on Tuesday morning that it would never provide user data to the Chinese Communist Party.

“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.,” a TikTok spokesperson told Gizmodo via email. “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.”

India recently banned TikTok and there are reports that the Australian government is considering a similar ban of the app. India has experienced a high degree of geopolitical tension with China in recent weeks over a disputed territory in the Himalayas, and Australia is part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance that also includes the U.S., UK, Canada, and New Zealand.

Pompeo spent much of the interview with Ingraham railing against the Chinese government’s incursion into Hong Kong’s local affairs, following the passage of a “national security” law giving Beijing unprecedented control over the semi-autonomous region. But Pompeo failed to mention that while President Donald Trump often talks tough on China’s authoritarianism, he actually admires China’s abuse of human rights and has said glowing things about China since at least the 1990s.

Trump even gave his endorsement to Xi Jinping when the Chinese leader started to build concentration camps for the Uighurs, according to former National Security Advisor John Bolton.

From Bolton’s book, The Room Where It Happened:

Beijing’s repression of the Uighurs also proceeded apace. Trump asked me at the 2018 White House Christmas dinner why we were considering sanctioning China because of its treatment of the Uighurs, a non–Han Chinese, largely Muslim people, who lived primarily in China’s northwest Xinjiang Province. Ross had warned me that morning Trump didn’t want sanctions because of the China trade negotiations. The issue of the Uighurs had been wending its way through the NSC process, but it was not yet ready for decision. It only got worse. At the opening dinner of the Osaka G20 meeting, with only interpreters present, Xi explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which he thought was exactly the right thing to do. Pottinger told me Trump said something very similar during the 2017 trip to China, which meant we could cross repression of the Uighurs off our list of possible reasons to sanction China, at least as long as trade negotiations continued.

It’s not yet clear whether a ban on TikTok could be circumvented by a VPN, something that internet users in other authoritarian countries often use to access forbidden content. But Americans should probably get prepared for a much more restricted internet over the horizon, if Trump has any say in the matter.

The president has a lot of leeway to ban things when he can cite a risk to “national security,” the thing that Trump would most likely point to if he goes through with a TikTok ban. The only problem is that basically anything can be about “national security” if you’re a wannabe fascist.

Raising tariffs on foreign cars? Trump cited national security. Limiting steel imports? Trump cited national security. TikTok might be next, but there’s no telling what could come after that, especially if Trump wins reelection in November. Execution of drug dealers or even just political opponents accused of “treason”? That sounds like something that could be a matter of national security.