Trump could ban viral app within days

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US President Donald Trump will receive a recommendation this week on whether to ban the viral video app TikTok following a review by the country’s foreign investment scrutineer.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin confirmed on Wednesday that the app was under a national security review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

The Committee has been investigating TikTok’s Beijing-based parent company ByteDance and its acquisition of former rival platform Musical.ly.

US President Donald Trump told press, ‘We’re looking at TikTok,’ as he boarded a plane to Texas on Wednesday. Picture: Nicholas Kamm/AFP
media_cameraUS President Donald Trump told press, ‘We’re looking at TikTok,’ as he boarded a plane to Texas on Wednesday. Picture: Nicholas Kamm/AFP

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That acquisition helped TikTok expand globally as it absorbed the userbase of Musical.ly, which had already made inroads into international markets including the US.

Reuters has reported that the CFIUS could force ByteDance to unwind the deal, as ByteDance investors including US-based wealth managers General Atlantic and Sequoia Capital proposed transferring ownership of TikTok to them.

Mr Mnuchin said “we have lots of alternatives” and recommendations would soon be given to the President.

A 2016 Musical.ly post. The app had more users around the world that were absorbed into TikTok.
media_cameraA 2016 Musical.ly post. The app had more users around the world that were absorbed into TikTok.

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While an antitrust hearing investigating the amount of power tech companies have and how they use it goes through the US Congress, TikTok’s CEO Kevin Mayer argues TikTok has brought competition into the social media marketplace.

“The entire industry has received scrutiny, and rightly so,” Mr Mayer said in the forum favoured by tech companies – its own online blog.

He said TikTok has “received even more scrutiny due to the company’s Chinese origins”.

“We accept this and embrace the challenge of giving peace of mind through greater transparency and accountability,” he said, announcing that TikTok would allow experts to “observe our moderation policies in real time, as well as examine the actual code that drives our algorithms”.

“This puts us a step ahead of the industry, and we encourage others to follow suit,” Mr Mayer said.

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TikTok is pushing for accountability and transparency, and if it’s going to be put under the microscope it argues other social media platforms should be too. Picture: Olivier Douliery/AFP
media_cameraTikTok is pushing for accountability and transparency, and if it’s going to be put under the microscope it argues other social media platforms should be too. Picture: Olivier Douliery/AFP

Mr Mayer also took aim at Facebook, first taking a dig at the fact the company is “launching another copycat product … after their other copycat failed quickly”.

“We say bring it on,” he said.

“But let’s focus our energies on fair and open competition in service of our consumers, rather than maligning attacks by our competitor – namely Facebook – disguised as patriotism and designed to put an end to our very presence in the US,” Mr Mayer said.

He said TikTok is “the latest target” and “not the enemy”, adding the current scepticism of the app should instead be used to “drive deeper conversations around algorithms, transparency, and content moderation, and to develop stricter rules of the road” for tech companies.

Originally published as Trump could ban viral app within days