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Why does Trump want to ban TikTok in the US?



US President Donald Trump has threatened to ban TikTok from the United States, warning the app poses a threat to national security because of its ties to China.

TikTok’s fun, goofy videos and ease of use has made it immensely popular since being launched by its parent company, Bytedance Ltd, in 2017. Bytedance operates a similar but separate version of the app in China, known as Douyin.

US tech giants like Facebook and Snapchat see TikTok as a competitive threat, with the platform attracting tens of millions of US users and hundreds of millions globally.

But its Chinese ownership has raised concerns about the censorship of videos, including those critical of China’s ruling Communist Party, and the potential for sharing user data with Chinese officials.

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TikTok says it does not censor videos and it would not give the Chinese government access to US user data. It claims all US user data is stored in the US, with a backup in Singapore.

US officials appear unpersuaded, however.

Mr Trump’s threat to ban TikTok comes amid heightened tensions between his administration and the Chinese government (AFP via Getty Images)

So, here’s what you need to know about the controversy:

Why does Trump want to ban TikTok in the US?

US officials have raised concerns that data collected by ByteDance via TikTok may end up being passed to the Chinese government.

In August, Mr Trump signed executive orders that declared TikTok, which has about 100 million users in the US, and another Chinese app, WeChat, threats to national security.

The White House said the video service was a security risk because the personal information of its millions of US users could be handed over to Chinese authorities.

The developments came amid heightened tensions between Mr Trump’s White House administration and the Chinese government over a number of issues, including trade disputes and Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

During his tenure as President, Mr Trump has overseen a broad security crackdown on Chinese companies, including telecom providers Huawei and ZTE.

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

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

Can the President really block the Chinese app?

It is not clear precisely what authority Mr Trump has to ban TikTok.

On Sunday, a US judge temporarily blocked one of the executive orders signed by Mr Trump, which would have banned TikTok from smartphone app stores in the country.

The order was due to take effect at 11.59pm on Sunday.

A more comprehensive ban remains scheduled for November, about a week after the US presidential election.

The judge, Carl Nichols of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, did not agree to postpone the later ban.

The ruling followed an emergency hearing on Sunday morning in which lawyers for TikTok argued that the administration’s app store ban would infringe on the company’s First Amendment rights and do irreparable harm to the business.

How has TikTok responded?

TikTok insists users’ personal data cannot be accessed by Beijing and that it has no ties to the Communist Party.

It is currently scrambling to firm up a deal tentatively struck a week ago in which it would partner with Oracle, a huge database-software company, and Walmart in an effort to win the blessing of both the Chinese and American governments. An earlier bid by Microsoft bid to take over TikTok’s US operations was rejected by Chinese owner ByteDance.

In the meantime, TikTok is fighting to keep the app available in the US and is suing the Mr Trump’s government over the president’s August 6 executive order, saying it was unlawful. So were resulting Commerce Department prohibitions that aim to kick TikTok out of US app stores and, in November, essentially shut it down in the US, it has claimed.

The Chinese firm said the president did not have the authority to take these actions under the national security law he cited; that the ban violated TikTok’s First Amendment speech rights and Fifth Amendment due process rights; and that there was no authority for the restrictions because they were not based on a national emergency.

The firm welcomed Sunday’s legal intervention, and has vowed to keep defending its rights from Mr Trump’s efforts to ban the app.

“We’re pleased that the court agreed with our legal arguments and issued an injunction preventing the implementation of the TikTok app ban,” it said in a statement.

In arguments to Judge Nichols, TikTok lawyer John Hall had argued that TikTok is more than an app, since it functions as a “modern day version of a town square”.

“If that prohibition goes into effect at midnight, the consequences immediately are grave”, Mr Hall said.

“It would be no different than the government locking the doors to a public forum, roping off that town square”, he added, saying this was a time when a free exchange of ideas is necessary heading into a polarised election.

TikTok lawyers also argued that a ban on the app would affect the ability of tens of thousands of potential viewers and content creators to express themselves every month and would also hurt its ability to hire new talent.

In addition, Mr Hall argued that a ban would prevent existing users from automatically receiving security updates, eroding national security.

How to use TikTok

Will the deal to sell TikTok’s US operations succeed?

Mr Trump has said he would approve a proposed deal involving Oracle and Walmart in which the firms could initially own a combined 20 per cent of a new US entity, TikTok Global. The president also said he could retract his approval if Oracle did not have “total control”.

The two sides of the TikTok deal have however appeared at odds over the corporate structure of TikTok Global. ByteDance said last week it would still own 80 per cent of the US entity after a financing round. Meanwhile, Oracle put out a statement saying that Americans “will be the majority and ByteDance will have no ownership in TikTok Global”.

Chinese media have criticised the deal as bullying and extortion, suggesting that the Chinese government is not happy with the arrangement.

ByteDance said on Thursday it had applied for a Chinese technology export license after Beijing tightened control over exports last month in an effort to gain leverage over Washington’s attempt to force an outright sale of TikTok to US owners.

China’s foreign ministry has said the government will “take necessary measures” to safeguard its companies but gave no indication what steps it could take to affect TikTok’s fate in the United States.

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