TikTok founder says Trump is trying to kill off viral video app

The founder claimed Donald Trump wanted a 'ban or even more', rather than a sale to a US company, such as Microsoft

Adam Smith
Wednesday 05 August 2020 09:59 BST
An AFP collaborator poses for a picture using the smart phone application TikTok on December 14, 2018 in Paris
An AFP collaborator poses for a picture using the smart phone application TikTok on December 14, 2018 in Paris (AFP via Getty Images)

TikTok’s founder, Zhang Yiming, has told employees that the forced sale of the viral video app to a US company is because America's aim is a “ban" on the app.

In a letter to employees, Zhang said that the sale was part of the legal process and that the company had no other option except to adhere by the law.

"The focus of the problem is not the ... decision to force the sale of TikTok's US business to an American company on [national security] grounds" Zhang wrote in a memo seen by The Independent.

That decision is one which the company "disagree[s]" with but "understand[s] that this happened under a legal framework [and has] to abide by the laws of the markets where we operate.

However, Zhang said "the goal" of the US government "was ... a ban or even more."

Zhang told employees that the current "complex environment" presents challenges for the company, but that "colleagues have worked overtime" and "many more are on standby 24 hours a day and have been called to work at all hours of the night" to try and resolve the conflict.

"In countries, such as the United States, in the current environment some politicians have forcefully attacked China, and in turn, Chinese companies, making it difficult to have a thoughtful and nuanced conversation about complex situations" he continued.

TikTok is currently set to be purchased by Microsoft from its parent company Bytedance, which Zhang also founded, by 15 September.

If a sale cannot be made, it will be be banned in the United States, Mr Trump has said.

The Trump administration has expressed concerns over the security of the app and its potential to feed data on American citizens to the Chinese government.

TikTok has denied this would happen; security experts, looking at China’s National Intelligence Law which passed in 2017, said the company would have little choice in the matter.

Mr Trump also said that the United States should receive a “substantial portion” of money in an acquisition deal because the US is “making it possible for this deal to happen”.

The president compared the relationship to that of a landlord and a tenant. Critics have raised issue with the Trump administration profiting from a deal that it has forced on a company.

TikTok is not the only app under fire from the American government. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that it is also looking at restricting the popular Chinese messaging platform WeChat.

“These Chinese software companies doing business in the United States, whether it’s TikTok or WeChat … are feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party, their national security apparatus,” he said in an interview

“It could be their facial recognition pattern. It could be information about their residence, their phone numbers, their friends, who they’re connected to. These are true national security issues.”

WeChat has reportedly been found to be controlling information sent by users seemingly at the behest of the Chinese government. The app is owned by Tencent, which also owns the popular video game League of Legends and has a partial stake in other games including Fortnite and PlayerUnknown BattleGrounds (PUBG).

It is unclear whether the Trump administration will take action to separate the Chinese parent company from those properties too.

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