Trump to order China’s ByteDance to divest TikTok

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump was preparing an order requiring the fast-growing social media app TikTok to be divested from its Chinese parent firm on national security grounds, media reports said Friday.

The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg reported Trump was set to order the sale of TikTok’s US operations by China-based ByteDance amid concerns the service could be used for Chinese intelligence.

Other reports including one from Fox News said Microsoft was in talks to acquire TikTok, which could be valued in the tens of billions of dollars.

The move comes following a review by the Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS) in the US, which investigates deals affecting US national security.

Neither TikTok nor Microsoft had any immediate comment.

TikTok, which has become wildly popular, especially with young audiences viewing its short-form videos, has an estimated billion users worldwide.

Trump told reporters some action was pending on TikTok but offered no specifics.

“We’re looking at TikTok. We may be banning TikTok. We may be doing some other things,” he said.

“There are a couple of options, but a lot of things are happening.”

US officials and lawmakers in recent weeks have raised concerns about the potential for TikTok being used by China for nefarious purposes, but the company has denied any links to the Beijing government.

Queried by AFP, TikTok declined to comment on the reports, saying only: “We are confident in the long-term success of TikTok.

“Hundreds of millions of people come to TikTok for entertainment and connection, including our community of creators and artists who are building livelihoods from the platform.”

TikTok this week pledged a high level of transparency, including allowing reviews of its algorithms, to assure users and regulators.

“We are not political, we do not accept political advertising and have no agenda – our only objective is to remain a vibrant, dynamic platform for everyone to enjoy,” TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer said in post this week.

“TikTok has become the latest target, but we are not the enemy.”

The popularity of TikTok surged after ByteDance acquired US-based app Musical.ly in 2017 and merged it with its own video service.

James Lewis, head of the technology policy programme at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he believes the security risk of using TikTok is “close to zero” but that ByteDance could face pressure from Beijing to engage in censorship.

“It looks like ByteDance may be getting squeezed by Beijing, so making them divest makes sense,” Lewis said. “They could start censoring stuff.”

Lewis said US authorities under CFIUS have the power to unwind an acquisition previously approved and that a similar action was taken in 2019 with the dating app Grindr after it was bought by a Chinese firm.