TikTok fights to hang on as Trump threatens to ban video app

The hugely popular video sharing app TikTok is fighting to keep operating in the US after Donald Trump threatened to ban it.

Amid claims the Chinese-owned platform was a threat to national security, the president told reporters he could ban it via means of an executive order as quickly as Saturday.

“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” he said, speaking aboard Air Force One on Friday evening as he returned from an event in Florida.

He said could use emergency economic powers or an executive order to enforce the action. “I have that authority. It’s going to be signed tomorrow.”

TikTok has long denied it represents a threat to US national security or that it provides information or data to the Chinese authorities, and has appointed several US and international executives to oversee its US operations. Nevertheless, concerns have persisted about the app, and several branches of the US military, including the army and navy, have banned it from government-issued phones.

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On Saturday, a flurry of reports said the Chinese owner of TikTok, ByteDance, was looking for a buyer for its US operations. Several media outlets, including Bloomberg News, said Microsoft was set to buy the app’s operations in the US.

At the same time, Reuters quoted two sources saying ByteDance, which had previously sought to maintain a minority stake in the US business of TikTok, was now prepared to exit completely in order to allow the app to continue to exist.

Neither TikTok or Microsoft, or the White House, officially commented on Saturday, but TikTok’s US general manager, Vanessa Pappas, posted a video in which she said: “We are here for the long run. Continue to share your voice here and let’s stand for TikTok.”

She added: “Millions of Americans who use TikTok every day, bringing their creativity and joy into our daily lives. We’ve heard your outpouring of support and we want to say thank you. We’re not planning on going anywhere.”

TikTok has continually insisted that it does not hand over information to the Chinese government. “We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked,” TikTok spokesperson Hilary McQuaide said earlier this month.

ByteDance launched TikTok in 2017, then bought Musical.ly, a video service popular with teens in the US and Europe, and combined the two. A twin service, Douyin, is available for Chinese users.

TikTok’s fun videos and ease of use has made it immensely popular, and tech giants like Facebook and Snapchat see it as a competitive threat. It has said it has 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 the Chinese government, and the potential for sharing user data.

Commentators on the intersection of technology and national security said the concerns over TikTok parallel a broader US crackdown on Chinese companies, including telecom providers Huawei and ZTE. The Trump administration has ordered that the US stop funding equipment from those providers in US networks.

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