TikTok, the popular video-sharing app, could be the latest casualty of the US-China trade war ignited by the Trump administration. On Friday, US President Donald Trump told reporters that he was looking to sign an executive order to ban the popular app from the United States. Previously, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also told something similar to Fox News but did not comment on how the administration attempts to do so.
President Trump’s latest admission has brought forward an outcry from young US “TikTokers.” Many of the 80 million US users are against the purported ban of TikTok as the app has become a source of income. A TikTok spokesperson has also responded to The Verge regarding the topic, and the statement reads:
“While we do not comment on rumors or speculation, we are confident in the long-term success of TikTok. Hundreds of millions of people come to TikTok for entertainment and connection, including our community of creators and artists who are building livelihoods from the platform. We’re motivated by their passion and creativity, and committed to protecting their privacy and safety as we continue working to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform.”
TikTok already has around 1,000 employees in the US, and the recent remarks from the Trump administration have sparked conversation from the company to add 10,000 more jobs in the US. TikTok has already hired American executives Vanessa Pappas as US General Manager and Kevin Mayer (from Disney) as CEO to make it seem less Chinese and more American.
While TikTok stores its data in the US, it has servers in Singapore. Its owners are Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd. Chinese ownership is the primary factor in the Trump administration’s stance against the app. The discussion arises due to the possibility of the Chinese government getting access to US user information through ByteDance. The possible meddling, while being repeatedly denied by TikTok, is the biggest concern cited in the upcoming ‘ban’ of TikTok in the US.
Huawei and ZTE are notable Chinese companies that have suffered big blows due to US trade bans. However, these companies have been previously alleged of shady actions while TikTok has not had such severe allegations. Similarly, TikTok is a software compared to Huawei or ZTE’s physical products making it peculiar as to the type of ‘ban’ which will be imposed.
US laws currently do not allow across-the-board ‘ban’ of TikTok. However, they can choose the following ways to make life harder for TikTok. In all certainty, it is the Chinese owner Bytedance who is the actual target.
Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) can effectively make ByteDance divest from TikTok. Last year the committee effectively forced Chinese investors of the LGBTQ dating app, Grindr, to divest. While Bytedance is already in plans to sell TikTok to Microsoft, Trump’s remarks have put the deal on hold. Both companies are waiting on what action Trump may take against TikTok.
The Trump Administration can put ByteDance (not TikTok) on the Entity List as it did with Huawei and ZTE. If placed on the list, American companies cannot work with the ByteDance and TikTok. The Entity List is also the reason why Google cannot work with Huawei. ByteDance will not suffer on the same scale, but iOS and Android could stop providing essential software updates to TikTok.
Exclusion from App Stores
By using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, iOS and Android stores can de-platform TikTok. But, pushing the app off the most popular app stores does not mean banning TikTok. Users who have already downloaded it will still have it, and it will be available on third-party app stores (for Android). But if this would put off user convenience by a mile and also add to irregular updates. TikTok would take a massive hit like Google apps-less Huawei phones.
In conclusion, the Trump administration cannot ‘ban’ TikTok in the US, like in India who recently banned the app. But in various ways, they can cripple TikTok’s second-largest user base. As it stands, Microsoft acquisition looks like the best answer to ByteDance’s US dilemma in regards to TikTok.