WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump plans to announce a decision ordering China’s ByteDance to divest its ownership of the music-video app TikTok, which is popular with US teens, according to people familiar with the matter.
The US has been investigating potential national security risks due to the company’s control of the app, and Trump’s decision could be announced as soon as Friday (July 31), the people said.
“We are looking at TikTok. We may be banning TikTok,” Trump told reporters at the White House Friday. “We are looking at a lot of alternatives with respect to TikTok.”
Spokespeople for the White House and Treasury Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A TikTok spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Snap, a TikTok competitor, gained on the report, reflecting speculation that it may benefit from any move that weakens TikTok.
Shares of the Santa Monica, California-based company were up 2.7% to $23.02 at 2.37pm in New York.
Bytedance bought Musical.ly Inc. in 2017 and merged it with TikTok, creating a popular and fast-growing social media hit in the US – the first Chinese app to make such inroads.
As TikTok grew more popular, US officials grew more concerned about the potential for the Chinese government to use the app to gain data on US citizens.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, which investigates overseas acquisitions of US businesses, began a review of the purchase in the fall of 2019, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
TikTok has become a political pawn between the US and China, and elected officials have criticised the app’s security and privacy practices, suggesting that user data collected through the app might be shared with the Chinese government.
Trump said earlier this month he was considering banning TikTok as a way to retaliate against China for its handling of the coronavirus.
TikTok critics and competitors have played up that fear, including Facebook, which has criticised the app for alleged censorship.
Trump’s threat to ban TikTok came just a few weeks after reports that many TikTok users had tried to sabotage a Trump campaign rally by requesting tickets they never planned to use and coordinated a push to flood Trump’s 2020 campaign app with negative reviews.
TikTok, which has offices in Los Angeles, has been looking for ways to distance itself from its Chinese ownership, seeking to reassure the public that no data is stored on servers in China and that the app operates independently. Bytedance even appointed a CEO formerly of Walt Disney, Kevin Mayer, to run its operations in America and the rest of the world.