Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department in Washington, DC, June 10, 2020.
Andrew Harnik | Pool via Reuters
The U.S. is “looking at” banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Monday.
His comments come amid rising tensions between the U.S. and China and as scrutiny on TikTok and Chinese technology firms continues to grow.
When asked in a Fox News interview if the U.S. should be looking at banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps, Pompeo said: “We are taking this very seriously. We are certainly looking at it.”
“We have worked on this very issue for a long time,” he said.
“Whether it was the problems of having Huawei technology in your infrastructure we’ve gone all over the world and we’re making real progress getting that out. We declared ZTE a danger to American national security,” Pompeo added, citing the two Chinese teleommunications networking companies.
“With respect to Chinese apps on peoples’ cellphones, the United States will get this one right too.”
TikTok was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.
Washington has been on a campaign against Chinese technology firms.
Huawei in particular has been in the crosshairs. The U.S. maintains that Huawei equipment could be used for espionage by Beijing, and that user data could be compromised. Huawei has repeatedly denied those allegations.
But TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, has also been on the radar since last year. Washington has been concerned that the platform censors content and that its data could be accessed by Beijing.
TikTok has tried to distance itself from its Chinese parent company.
The company hired former Disney executive, Kevin Mayer, to be TikTok’s CEO earlier this year. His priority was seen as rebuilding trust with regulators.
But the Trump administration still appears skeptical of TikTok. When asked by Fox News if Americans should download the social media app, Pompeo said: “Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.”
TikTok has previously said that U.S. user data is stored in the United States, with a backup in Singapore. The company also said that its data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of their data is subject to Chinese law.
TikTok has faced scrutiny around the world. In India, the app was recently blocked along with 58 others. Tensions between India and China have been rising over their disputed border in the Western Himalayas and a clash earlier this month left 20 Indian soldiers dead.
Hong Kong exit
Meanwhile, TikTok announced plans to pull out of the Hong Kong market on Monday amid uncertainty around the controversial national security law introduced by Beijing last week.
Opponents of the legislation say that it undermines Hong Kong’s relative autonomy from the Chinese mainland. Critics are also concerned the law grants the central government in Beijing sweeping powers to clamp down on dissent in the Chinese territory, which saw more than a year of protests that sometimes turned violent.
“In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong,” a spokesperson for the app told NBC News.
The app was meant to be for the international market while ByteDance runs a separate app in China, called Douyin.
Other technology firms have voiced concerns about the new national security law in Hong Kong. A number of major companies, mostly U.S. firms, have said they are pausing co-operation with Hong Kong authorities and their requests for data.
“Last Wednesday, when the law took effect, we paused production on any new data requests from Hong Kong authorities, and we’ll continue to review the details of the new law,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC.
Facebook followed suit saying the company believes “freedom of expression is a fundamental human right” and that the company will “support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions.”
“We are pausing the review of government requests for user data from Hong Kong pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts,” a spokesperson told CNBC.
Twitter and messaging app Telegram have also made similar moves, according to numerous media reports. Neither company was immediately available for comment.
All of these companies are blocked in mainland China but have enjoyed access to the Hong Kong market.
Technology companies usually comply with requests for data from law enforcement when they are satisfied they meet the laws of the country that is requesting the information.