(WSJ) Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday that a Treasury Department-led review into whether popular Chinese video-sharing app TikTok poses threats to U.S. national security will present its recommendations to President Trump this week.
U.S. officials say they are concerned that TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., could pass on data it collects from Americans streaming videos to China’s authoritarian government. They also are increasingly concerned that the app might be spreading Chinese propaganda and that the platform’s moderators could be censoring content to appease Beijing.
TikTok’s platform, filled with goofy user-made dance and music videos, has been downloaded more than 180 million times in the U.S., according to market research firm Sensor Tower.
TikTok has said that the Chinese government hasn’t asked TikTok to censor content and that its content-moderation policies aren’t influenced by any government.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently suggested the U.S. might either ban or limit users’ access to the app.
Asked by reporters Wednesday about the potential ban, Mr. Trump responded: “We’re looking at TikTok. We’re thinking about making a decision.”
Mr. Mnuchin, speaking alongside Mr. Trump, added: “We’ll be making a recommendation to the president on it this week. We have lots of alternatives.” He didn’t elaborate on those options.
The review of TikTok has centered around ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of a similar video-sharing platform called Musical.ly, a Shanghai-based platform that had built a strong U.S. user base. After the acquisition, Musical.ly’s platform was discontinued, and users who wanted to share videos could continue to do so on TikTok’s platform.
Mr. Mnuchin confirmed Wednesday that the TikTok review was being conducted by the Treasury-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or Cfius, a panel of federal agencies that reviews deals involving foreign money to ensure they don’t put the country’s national security at risk. The panel has the power to review deals that involve U.S. companies, such as the 2017 acquisition.
If the Treasury-led panel can’t agree on whether TikTok is a security threat, it can ask Mr. Trump to decide. The president has the authority to declare that the transaction poses a threat. He also has the power to order TikTok’s owners to sell their stake to other investors who don’t pose a national security threat.
The comments from Messrs. Trump and Mnuchin came as top U.S. technology executives were preparing to testify before Congress.
“We’re going to be watching the hearings today very closely,” Mr. Trump said. “Because there’s no question that what the big tech companies are doing is very bad.”
In his prepared remarks, Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that he intends to address threats from China—a not-so-veiled reference to TikTok’s rise.
TikTok’s new CEO, Kevin Mayer, fired back in a blog post Wednesday morning, disparaging Facebook’s “copycat” efforts to match TikTok and saying many attacks on the company are “disguised as patriotism.”
The blog post by Mr. Mayer, hired away from Walt Disney Co. in May, was the CEO’s most direct effort to address the national-security and privacy concerns that some lawmakers have raised about the app.
“For our skeptics, I am confident we have the answers and where we do not, we will improve,” he wrote. “TikTok has become the latest target, but we are not the enemy.”
Source: Wall Street Journal by Katy Stech Ferek