Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late Monday that the United States is considering banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok, one of the world’s most popular online platforms.
Noting that India had recently banned dozens of Chinese apps, Fox News host Laura Ingraham asked Pompeo whether the Trump administration was exploring similar action against TikTok, which has around 30 million active American users.
“We’re certainly looking at it,” Pompeo said, adding that the administration was taking the issue “very seriously.” “With the respect to Chinese apps on people’s cellphones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right.”
He added, “I don’t want to get out in front of the president, but it’s something we’re looking at.”
Pompeo’s interview comes amid rising tensions with China, which President Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed for America’s escalating coronavirus pandemic. It also follows an underwhelming crowd at Trump’s rally in Tulsa that some blamed on a disruptive campaign led by TikTok users.
Ingraham also asked the secretary of state on Monday whether he would recommend Americans download TikTok or other Chinese social media apps to their phones.
“Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” Pompeo replied.
In an email to The Washington Post early Tuesday, a TikTok spokesperson denied that the popular video-sharing giant, with hundreds of millions of users worldwide, is influenced by any foreign government.
“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,” the spokesperson said in an email. “We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Before Pompeo’s interview, TikTok said Monday night that it would stop operating its app in Hong Kong, citing “recent events.” Beijing last week passed new national security laws in the territory, classifying a wide range of crimes as terrorism and secession and criminalizing dissent – posing a problem for tech companies that operate there. Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp said earlier that they will no longer process data requests from law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong until they assess the political changes.
Chinese state media, however, said that TikTok’s Chinese version will continue to operate in Hong Kong.
On Fox News, Pompeo included the push against TikTok with the administration’s work against Huawei, the Chinese company that has long dominated global sales of equipment for wireless networks. The Trump administration has labeled Huawei gear a security threat, urging allies not to use it in their 5G networks, The Post’s Jeanne Whalen reported. But a lack of alternatives to this point has rendered the campaign ineffective.
Some countries have already taken action against TikTok. India, which had nearly 200 million TikTok users, announced last week it was banning more than 50 Chinese mobile apps, including the video-sharing platform. As The Post’s Joanna Slater reported, the ban was a consequence of the deadly clashes that killed 20 Indian soldiers last month, the most serious conflict between China and India in more than a half-century.
In announcing the ban, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said Chinese apps represented a threat to citizens’ privacy and national security. The agency noted it had received complaints that the apps were “stealing and surreptitiously transmitting users’ data” to servers outside the nation, an activity that, the ministry said, “ultimately impinges on the sovereignty and security of India.”
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The Washington Post’s Shibani Mahtani in Hong Kong contributed to this report.