Trump to take action over TikTok and other Chinese software

3 August 2020, 08:50

By Megan White

President Donald Trump plans to take action on what he sees as national security risks posed by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday.

Mr Pompeo's remarks came as Microsoft confirmed it was in talks to buy the US operations of TikTok, which has been a source of censorship concerns for the Trump administration.

"These Chinese software companies doing business in the United States, whether it's TikTok or WeChat - there are countless more ... are feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party, their national security apparatus," Mr Pompeo told Fox News.

"Could be their facial recognition patterns. It could be information about their residence, their phone numbers, their friends, who they're connected to. Those - those are the issues that President Trump has made clear we're going to take care of," he said.

TikTok's US user data is stored in the US, with strict controls on employee access, and its biggest investors come from the US, the company said on Sunday.

"We are committed to protecting our users' privacy and safety as we continue working to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform," a TikTok spokesperson said.

President Donald Trump speaks at an event in Texas on Wednesday
President Donald Trump speaks at an event in Texas on Wednesday. Picture: PA

Mr Trump had said on Friday he would soon ban TikTok in the United States.

A federal committee is reviewing whether that is possible, but its members agree TikTok can not remain in the US in its current form, because it "risks sending back information on 100 million Americans", said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

"We all agree there has to be a change ... everybody agrees it can't exist as it does," Mr Mnuchin told ABC TV.

As speculation grew over a ban or sale of the social media's US business, TikTok posted a video on Saturday saying: "We're not planning on going anywhere."

Microsoft confirmed on Sunday night it is in talks with Chinese company ByteDance, which owns TikTok, to acquire the US arm of the popular video app.

Microsoft also said it had discussed with Mr Trump his concerns about security and censorship surrounding such an acquisition.

In a statement, Microsoft said it and ByteDance had provided notice of their intent to explore a deal resulting in Microsoft owning and operating the TikTok service in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The company said it expected those talks to conclude by September 15.

"Microsoft fully appreciates the importance of addressing the President's concerns. It is committed to acquiring TikTok subject to a complete security review and providing proper economic benefits to the United States, including the United States Treasury," the Microsoft statement said.

TikTok's catchy videos and ease of use has made it popular, and it says it has tens of millions of users in the US and hundreds of millions globally.

Its parent company, Bytedance Ltd, launched TikTok in 2017. It bought, a video service popular with teens in the US and Europe, and combined the two. It has a similar service, Douyin, for users in China.

But TikTok's Chinese ownership has raised concern about the potential for sharing user data with Chinese officials as well as censorship of videos critical of the Chinese government.

TikTok says it does not censor videos and it would not give the Chinese government access to US user data.

"The President, when he makes his decision, will make sure that everything we have done drives us as close to zero risk for the American people," Mr Pompeo said.

"That's the mission set that he laid out for all of us when we get - we began to evaluate this now several months back. We're closing in on a solution. And I think you will see the president's announcement shortly."

The debate over TikTok parallels a broader US security crackdown on Chinese companies, including telecom providers Huawei and ZTE.

The Trump administration has ordered that the US stop buying equipment from those providers to be used in US networks.

Mr Trump has also tried to steer allies away from Huawei over concerns the Chinese government has access to its data, which Huawei denies.