Reporters accompanying Trump on Air Force One from an event in Florida back to Washington said Trump told them he planned to take action against the popular video-sharing service as soon as Saturday.
“As far as TikTok is concerned we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump said, according to the pool report.
Trump said the ban will come through either an executive order or by using executive economic powers.
He also made clear that he opposed a deal to let a U.S. company buy TikTok’s American operations from its China-based owner ByteDance.
Reuters reported earlier Friday that the White House was preparing to force ByteDance to shed TikTok’s U.S. operations. Potential buyers, including Microsoft, were reportedly in talks to step in and purchase them, according to multiple outlets. Microsoft declined to comment.
TikTok issued a statement Friday saying that, “While we do not comment on rumours or speculation, we are confident in the long-term success of TikTok.”
Earlier Friday, Trump said he was considering “a couple of options” concerning TikTok.
“We are looking at TikTok,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We may be banning TikTok. We may be doing some other things. There a couple of options, but a lot of things are happening. So we’ll see what happens.”
As relations between the United States and China deteriorate over trade, Hong Kong’s autonomy, cyber security and the spread of the novel coronavirus, TikTok has emerged as a flashpoint in the dispute between the world’s two largest economies.
Last week, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs unanimously passed a bill that would bar U.S. federal employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices. It will be taken up by the full Senate for a vote. The House of Representatives has already voted for a similar measure.
The app was labeled as a national security threat to the U.S. earlier this month. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said around that time that the U.S. was considering banning TikTok, with other White House officials promising action within “weeks.”
ByteDance launched TikTok in 2017, then bought Musical.ly, a video service popular with teens in the U.S. and Europe, and combined the two. A twin service, Douyin, is available for Chinese users.
TikTok’s fun, goofy videos and ease of use has made it immensely popular, and U.S. tech giants like Facebook and Snapchat see it as a competitive threat. It has said it has tens of millions of U.S. 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 with Chinese officials.
TikTok maintains it doesn’t censor videos based on topics sensitive to China and it would not give the Chinese government access to U.S. user data even if asked. The company has hired a U.S. CEO, a former top Disney executive, in an attempt to distance itself from its Chinese ownership.
U.S. national-security officials have been reviewing the Musical.ly acquisition in recent months.
These national-security worries parallel a broader U.S. security crackdown on Chinese companies, including telecom providers Huawei and ZTE. The Trump administration has ordered that the U.S. stop funding equipment from those providers in U.S. networks. It has also tried to steer allies away from Huawei because of worries about the Chinese government’s access to data, which the companies have denied it has.
Other countries are also taking action against TikTok. India this month banned dozens of Chinese apps, including TikTok, citing privacy concerns, amid tensions between the countries.
—With files from Reuters and the Associated Press
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