Trump Administration Reviews TikTok for National Security Risks

The Trump administration is conducting a formal review of Chinese-owned social media apps TikTok and WeChat for possible national security risks, which could conclude in a matter of weeks.

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday that there is no self-imposed deadline for finishing the review, but he expects a result within “weeks not months.”

Meadows said the administration’s review is taking place on a parallel track with a similar investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

“There are a number of administration officials who are looking at the national security risk as it relates to TikTok, WeChat and other apps that have the potential for national security exposure, specifically as it relates to the gathering of information on American citizens by a foreign adversary,” Meadows said.

President Donald Trump has floated a ban on TikTok, a popular short video app, as he mulls ways to retaliate against China over its handling of the coronavirus and its crackdowns on Hong Kong and the Uighur Muslim minority group in Xinjiang.

Those comments came after Secretary of State Michael Pompeo floated a ban on TikTok from U.S. devices. But Pompeo hinted on Wednesday any action might fall short of a complete ban.

“That’s for parents to decide, their kids usage on their cellphones,” Pompeo said at an event sponsored by the Hill newspaper. “It’s our task to make sure their children’s information doesn’t end up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok has sought to distance itself from its Chinese ownership, publicly stating it does not share private user data with the Beijing government and recently hiring an American chief executive officer, Kevin Mayer, who previously worked for the Walt Disney Co. TikTok is owned by ByteDance Ltd., which was founded in China and is incorporated in the Cayman Islands.

“There is a huge amount of misinformation on TikTok out there. TikTok has an American CEO, and a chief information security officer with decades of U.S. military and law enforcement experience,” TikTok said in a statement. “Four of our parent company’s five board seats are controlled by some of the world’s best respected global investors. TikTok U.S. user data is stored in the U.S. and Singapore, with strict controls on employee access. These are the facts.”

Since April, the company has reached out to the offices of more than 50 key lawmakers as it seeks to emphasize its independent American leadership, according to a person familiar with the company’s Washington operation.

It has also brought on a number of experienced policy hands, beginning with Michael Beckerman, the former president of the Internet Association trade group. The company has also boosted its lobbying spending in recent quarters and brought on outside lobbying firms, including one with ties to Trump.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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