President Trump on Friday said he plans to ban the popular app TikTok from operating in the US.
Traveling aboard Air Force One, Trump told reporters he could take action as soon as Saturday.
“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” he said according to a pool report.
Trump has been threatening to ban the popular video-sharing app citing national security concerns that its parent company, Chinese-owned ByteDance, could be misusing American consumer information. The president, however, has made threats in the past or announced planned action that has not ultimately arrived.
When asked on Fox News earlier this month whether Americans should download TikTok on their phones, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said: “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
ByteDance has said that the company stores user data entirely in the US and Singapore and that it does not have to send user data to China. But skeptics point to a 2017 law in China that requires Chinese companies to comply with government requests for intelligence gathering.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States opened a national security review into ByteDance last year.
Trump on Friday said he could use emergency economic powers or an executive order to ban the app in the United States, though it is not immediately clear how that would work or what the specific legal rationale would be.
A TikTok spokesperson declined to comment when asked if the company would take legal action against the Trump administration. However, in a statement, they said millions of Americans have flocked to the app during the coronavirus pandemic and that their data “is stored in the US, with strict controls on employee access.”
“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,” the spokesperson added.
In a TikTok posted on Saturday morning, the app’s US General Manager Vanessa Pappas thanked their American users for an “outpouring of support.”
“We’re not planning on going anywhere,” Pappas said. “When it comes to safety and security, we’re building the safest app because we know it’s the right thing to do.”
The New York Times on Friday reported that Microsoft and other companies are in talks to buy TikTok. But Trump told reporters on Air Force One he was not in favor of a US company buying the app’s American operations.
However, a source familiar with conversations between the administration and TikTok told BuzzFeed News that Trump is looking for a win, and trying to force one by ensuring the company’s US operations would be 100% US-owned.
TikTok evolved from another popular app Musical.ly, which ByteDance bought in 2017.
Ryan Mac and Mat Honan contributed additional reporting to this story.