Trump Gives TikTok 6 Weeks To Sell Itself To US Company

The verdict against Haneen Hossam, Mowada al-Adham and three others came after they had posted footage on video-sharing app TikTok. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

 

 

US President Donald Trump gave popular Chinese-owned video app TikTok six weeks to sell its US operations to an American company, saying Monday it would be “out of business” otherwise, and that the government wanted a financial benefit from the deal.

“It’s got to be an American company… it’s got to be owned here,” Trump said. “We don’t want to have any problem with security.”

Trump said that Microsoft was in talks to buy TikTok, which has as many as one billion worldwide users who make quirky 60-second videos with its smartphone app.

But US officials say the app constitutes a national security risk because it could share millions of Americans’ personal data with Chinese intelligence.

Trump gave the company’s Chinese parent ByteDance until mid-September to strike a deal.

“I set a date of around September 15, at which point it’s going to be out of business in the United States,” he said.

Whatever the price is, he said, “the United States should get a very large percentage of that price because we’re making it possible.”

Trump compared the demand for a piece of the pie to a landlord demanding under-the-table “key money” from a new tenant, a practice widely illegal including in New York, where the billionaire president built his real estate empire.

“TikTok is a big success, but a big portion of it is in the country,” he said. “I think it’s very fair.”

But Trump also threw a surprise new condition in any deal, saying the sale of TikTok’s US business would have to result in a significant payout to the US Treasury for initiating it.

“A very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the Treasury of the United States, because we’re making it possible for this deal to happen,” Trump told reporters.

“They don’t have any rights unless we give it to them,” he said.

Sell or shut down

The pressure for a sale of TikTok’s US and international business, based in Los Angeles, left the company and ByteDance facing tough decisions.

Trump has made TikTok the latest front in the ongoing political and trade battles between Washington and Beijing.

The app has been under formal investigation on US national security grounds because it collects large amounts of personal data on all its users and is legally bound to share that with authorities in Beijing if they demand it.

Both its huge user base and its algorithm for collecting data make it hugely valuable.

But being forced by the US government to sell at least its US business or be shut down — and to then split the sale price with the US Treasury as Trump is demanding — was an almost unheard-of tactic.

Shutting down could force users to switch to competitors, and many content creators are already encouraging followers to follow them on other social media platforms.

“The most obvious beneficiaries are Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, with Snapchat likely being the biggest beneficiary,” said investment analysts at Lightshed Partners.

Earlier Monday, ByteDance founder Zhang Yiming acknowledged the hefty pressure and said in a letter to staff, reported by Chinese media, that they were working around-the-clock “for the best outcome.”

“We have always been committed to ensuring user data security, as well as the platform neutrality and transparency,” Zhang said.

However, he said, the company faces “mounting complexities across the geopolitical landscape and significant external pressure.”

He said the company must confront the challenge from the United States, though “without giving up exploring any possibilities.”

According to Britain’s The Sun newspaper Monday, as a possible consequence of the pressure, ByteDance is planning to relocate TikTok’s global operations to Britain.

Pushing back

China’s foreign ministry pushed back Monday, calling Washington hypocritical for demanding TikTok be sold.

“The US is using an abused concept of national security and, without providing any evidence, is making presumptions of guilt and issuing threats to relevant companies,” said spokesman Wang Wenbin.

“This goes against the principle of market economy and exposes the hypocrisy and typical double standards of the US in upholding so-called fairness and freedom,” he added.

Microsoft To Continue TikTok Acquisition Talks After Meeting Trump

 In this file photo taken on February 25, 2020 Microsoft Corporation Chief Executive Officer, Satya Nadella, gestures as he addresses the Future Decoded Tech Summit in Bangalore. Manjunath Kiran / AFP
In this file photo taken on February 25, 2020 Microsoft Corporation Chief Executive Officer, Satya Nadella, gestures as he addresses the Future Decoded Tech Summit in Bangalore. Manjunath Kiran / AFP

 

Microsoft announced Sunday it would continue talks to acquire the US operations of popular video-sharing app TikTok, after meeting with President Donald Trump who seemingly backed off his earlier threats to ban the Chinese-owned platform.

“Following a conversation between Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Donald J Trump, Microsoft is prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States,” the company said in a statement, acknowledging the “importance of addressing the President’s concerns” over national security.

Microsoft added that it would continue negotiations with ByteDance, TikTok’s Chinese parent company, with the intention of “completing these discussions no later than September 15.”

The statement came after Trump on Friday said he would ban the app, which is especially popular with young audiences who create and watch its short-form videos and has an estimated one billion users worldwide.

TikTok should be sold or blocked in the US, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told ABC earlier Sunday, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Fox News the president would “take action in the coming days with respect to a broad array of national security risks that are presented by software connected to the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok denies it could be a tool for Chinese intelligence, with its US general manager Vanessa Pappas declaring Saturday: “We’re not planning on going anywhere.”

‘Biggest loser’

“The United States would be the biggest loser if it banned TikTok,” Daniel Castro, vice president of the think tank Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, said Saturday.

“All of its data centers are outside of China, and there is no evidence that it presents a national security threat.”

In this file photo illustration taken on November 21, 2019, the logo of the social media video sharing app Tiktok is displayed on a tablet screen in Paris. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

 

Trump said he would use an executive order to ban TikTok, or the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a law granting the president powers to regulate international trade in the face of an “unusual and extraordinary threat” from abroad to US foreign policy, national security or the economy.

His threat has caused great concern for US TikTok users, particularly content creators who make money on the platform.

Many of them have posted links to their Instagram or YouTube accounts so as not to lose followers if the platform is ultimately blocked.

In its statement, Microsoft said it plans to “build on the experience TikTok users currently love, while adding world-class security, privacy, and digital safety protections.”

Buying TikTok would give Microsoft a chance to break into the social networking market.

The IT group currently owns the professional networking platform LinkedIn, and Teams, an internal messaging service for companies.

‘Bizarre’

Pappas promised Saturday to create 10,000 US jobs at TikTok over the next three years, in addition to the 1,500 current employees.

“Don’t fall for this,” responded senior Trump aide Peter Navarro, a fierce China critic and a main architect of the trade war with Beijing.

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on August 01, 2020 shows the logo of the social media video sharing app Tiktok displayed on a tablet screen in Paris, and US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 30, 2020. JIM WATSON, Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

 

“China has hired a whole bunch of American lobbyists. They put a puppet CEO in charge of that company,” he told Fox News, referring to former Disney executive Kevin Mayer, who became the CEO of TikTok in May.

On Friday evening Trump indicated he opposed a takeover of TikTok by an American company, a solution nevertheless agreed to by most of the involved parties, including ByteDance, according to The New York Times.

“This is getting bizarre. A 100 percent sale to an American company… mitigates any reasonable data protection concerns,” tweeted Alex Stamos, a former Facebook head of security and a researcher at Stanford University.

“If the White House kills this (sale) we know this isn’t about national security,” he added.

 

 

AFP

TikTok Must Be Sold Or Blocked In US, Says Mnuchin

In this file photo illustration taken on November 21, 2019, the logo of the social media video sharing app Tiktok is displayed on a tablet screen in Paris. by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

 

 

 

TikTok must either be sold or blocked in the US due to national security concerns, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday in the latest ominous US warning to the Chinese-owned app.

TikTok, he said, simply “cannot exist as it does.”

Mnuchin did not comment directly on President Donald Trump’s threat Friday to bar the wildly popular video-sharing app.

The secretary recalled that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States — which he chairs — is reviewing TikTok, which is especially popular with young audiences who create and watch its short-form videos and has an estimated one billion users worldwide.

But in one of many fronts in US-Chinese relations that have turned practically poisonous these days, US officials have said it could be a tool for Chinese intelligence. TikTok denies any such suggestion.

 

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on August 01, 2020 shows the logo of the social media video sharing app Tiktok displayed on a tablet screen in Paris, and US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 30, 2020. JIM WATSON, Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

 

“I will say publicly that the entire committee agrees that TikTok cannot stay in the current format because it risks sending back information on 100 million Americans,” Mnuchin said Sunday on ABC.

Mnuchin said he has spoken to leaders of Congress including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer about what to do with TikTok’s operations in the US.

“We agree there needs to be a change. Force a sale or block the app. Everybody agrees it can’t exist as it does,” Mnuchin said.

The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that negotiations for Microsoft to buy the US operations of TikTok, owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance, are on hold after Trump threatened to bar the app.

TikTok defended itself on Saturday, with its general manager for the US, Vanessa Pappas, telling users that the company was working to give them “the safest app,” amid US concerns over data security.

“We’re not planning on going anywhere,” Pappas said in a message released on the app.

AFP

TikTok Sale Uncertain As Trump Ban Looms – Reports

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on August 01, 2020, shows the logo of the social media video-sharing app TikTok displayed on a tablet screen in Paris, and US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 30, 2020. AFP

 

Negotiations for Microsoft to buy the US operations of Chinese-owned TikTok are on hold after President Donald Trump threatened to bar the social media app and came out against the sale, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

Trump has pledged to get tough on the massively popular video-sharing app, which US officials have said could be a tool for Chinese intelligence — a claim the firm, owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance, has repeatedly denied.

While there has been no sign yet of the ban he threatened on Friday to impose, his words were reportedly already adding to uncertainties for TikTok.

“Before Mr. Trump’s remarks, the two sides believed the broad strokes of a deal could be in place by Monday,” the paper reported on a possible TikTok-Microsoft sale, citing unnamed sources.

It also said Trump’s threats and opposition to the deal had prompted TikTok to make further concessions, including adding up to 10,000 jobs in the US over the next three years.

TikTok defended itself on Saturday, with its general manager for the US, Vanessa Pappas, telling users that the company was working to give them “the safest app,” amid US concerns over data security.

“We’re not planning on going anywhere,” Pappas said in a message released on the app.

TikTok, especially popular with young audiences who create and watch its short-form videos, has an estimated one billion users worldwide.

It has grown even faster as the coronavirus pandemic has pushed people physically away from each other, but into close contact online.

Earlier media reports had suggested Trump would require that the app’s US operations be divested from ByteDance, but he instead announced a ban.

Trump’s announcement drew criticism from some in the tech sector, including former Facebook chief security officer Alex Stamos, who questioned whether the move was spurred by national security concerns.

“A 100 per cent sale to an American company would have been considered a radical solution two weeks ago and, eventually, mitigates any reasonable data protection concerns,” he wrote on Twitter.

TikTokers employed the apps’ signature short-form videos to poke fun at Trump.

One clip that was liked over 300,000 times shows a young woman stacking bricks and smearing orange paint on her face, apparent digs at the president’s skin tone and controversial pledge to build a wall between the US and Mexico.

A woman watches a video of influencer Mowada al-Adham on the video-sharing app TikTok in Egypt’s capital Cairo on July 28, 2020. AFP

 

“Me trying to convince Trump to let us keep TikTok”, read the text on the post.

 ‘For the long run’ 

The American Civil Liberties Union cried foul over the possibility of a ban on the app.

“Banning an app that millions of Americans use to communicate with each other is a danger to free expression and is technologically impractical,” said the ACLU’s surveillance and cybersecurity counsel, Jennifer Granick.

“With any Internet platform, we should be concerned about the risk that sensitive private data will be funnelled to abusive governments, including our own,” Granick said in a statement.

“But shutting one platform down, even if it were legally possible to do so, harms freedom of speech online and does nothing to resolve the broader problem of unjustified government surveillance.”

Pappas said she was “proud” of TikTok’s 1,500 US employees, and also noted the “additional 10,000 jobs” the company plans on creating in the US in the next three years.

“When it comes to safety and security, we’re building the safest app because we know it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

“So we appreciate the support. We’re here for the long run, and continue to share your voice here and let’s stand for TikTok.”

AFP

Egyptian Woman Jailed For 3 Years Over TikTok Videos

Egypt has in recent years enforced strict internet controls through laws allowing authorities to block websites seen as a threat to national security and to monitor personal social media accounts with over 5,000 followers. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP) 

 

 

An Egyptian court Wednesday jailed the sixth woman in a week over TikTok videos, deeming the clips in which she dances and lip-syncs to popular songs to be “inciting debauchery”, a judicial source said.

The sentencing of Manar Samy to three years imprisonment is the latest in a string of such rulings against popular female social media users in Egypt over content posted to the image-sharing apps TikTok and Instagram.

Samy was arrested earlier in July on charges of “inciting debauchery, immorality and stirring up instincts” through her online videos, according to a prosecution statement.

Prosecutors found her videos — in which she dances and lip-syncs to popular music — to be “offensive to public decency” and to have been posted “with the aim of committing prostitution”.

According to the judicial source, the verdict can be appealed and “includes a fine of 300,000 Egyptian pounds ($19,000)”.

Her bail was set at 20,000 pounds, the source added.

Samy’s lawyer Hani Basyoni later told AFP the “bail has been paid but her release could be postponed until after the Eid al-Adha holiday ends on Monday”.

The court scheduled an appeal hearing for August 15, he added.

Wednesday’s ruling came days after another court sentenced five female social media influencers, Haneen Hossam, Mowada al-Adham and three others, to two years each in jail over content posted to TikTok.

In their short videos on the app, the young women appear doing satirical lip-syncs, comedic skits, dance videos and voice-overs — content that is widely popular around the world on the mobile app.

Hossam was arrested in April after posting a short clip on social media saying that girls could make money by working with her, a message that was interpreted as a call for prostitution.

In May, authorities arrested Adham, who had posted satirical videos on TikTok and Instagram.

The targeting of female influencers rekindled a heated debate in the deeply conservative Muslim country over what constitutes individual freedoms and “social norms”.

The clampdown is however not unusual in Egypt, where several belly dancers and pop singers have been targeted in recent years over online content deemed too racy or suggestive.

Last month, an Egyptian court sentenced belly dancer Sama al-Masry to three years in jail for inciting “debauchery” on social media over posts deemed sexually suggestive.

Activists and legal experts have long criticised the crackdown on individual freedoms under loosely worded offences.

“The charges of spreading debauchery or violating family values are very loose… and its definition is broad,” rights lawyer Intissar al-Saeed previously told AFP.

Rights groups say more freedoms have been curtailed in Egypt under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who took office in 2014.

Egypt has in recent years enforced strict internet controls through laws allowing authorities to block websites seen as a threat to national security and to monitor personal social media accounts with over 5,000 followers.

 

 

-AFP

Egypt Female Tiktok Influencers Get Two-Year Jail Terms For ‘Indecency’

In this file photo illustration taken on November 21, 2019, the logo of the social media video sharing app Tiktok is displayed on a tablet screen in Paris. –  (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP) / 

 

 

An Egyptian court Monday sentenced five female social media influencers to two years in jail each on charges of violating public morals, a judicial source said. 

The verdict against Haneen Hossam, Mowada al-Adham and three others came after they had posted footage on video-sharing app TikTok.

“The Cairo economic court sentenced Hossam, Adham and three others to two years after they were convicted of violating society’s values,” the judicial source said.

 

A woman watches a video of influencer Mowada al-Adham, who was sentenced to two years in jail on charges of violation public morals, on the video-sharing app TikTok in Egypt’s capital Cairo on July 28, 2020.  (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

 

The ruling, which can be appealed, included a fine of 300,000 Egyptian pounds ($18,750) for each defendant, the source noted.

Hossam was arrested in April after posting a three-minute clip telling her 1.3 million followers that girls could make money by working with her.

In May, authorities arrested Adham who had posted satirical videos on TikTok and Instagram, where she has at least two million followers.

 

A woman watches a video of Egyptian influencer Haneen Hossam, who was sentenced to two years in jail on charges of violation public morals, on the video-sharing app TikTok in Egypt’s capital Cairo on July 28, 2020.  (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

Lawyer Ahmed Hamza al-Bahqiry said the young women are facing separate charges over the sources of their funds.

The arrests highlight a social divide in the deeply conservative Muslim country over what constitutes individual freedoms and “social norms”.

Human rights lawyer Tarek al-Awadi has previously told AFP that the influencers’ arrests showed how society was wrestling with the rapid rise of modern communications technology.

Internet penetration has reached over 40 percent of Egypt’s youthful population of more than 100 million.

– ‘Dangerous indicator’ –
“The verdict is shocking, though it was expected. We will see what happens on appeal,” said womens rights lawyer Intissar al-Saeed.

 

A woman watches a video of Egyptian influencer Haneen Hossam, who was sentenced to two years in jail on charges of violation public morals, on the video-sharing app TikTok in Egypt’s capital Cairo on July 28, 2020.  (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

 

“It is still a dangerous indicator… Regardless of the divergent views on the content presented by the girls on TikTok, it still is not a reason for imprisonment.”

Egypt has in recent years cracked down on female singers and dancers over online content deemed too racy or suggestive.

Last month, an Egyptian court sentenced belly dancer Sama al-Masry to three years in jail for inciting “debauchery” on social media over posts deemed sexually suggestive.

In 2018, a female singer was detained for “incitement to debauchery” after an online video clip that included sensual oriental dance moves went viral.

The previous year, a female pop singer was sentenced to two years in prison on similar charges, also over a video deemed provocative. Her sentence was reduced to a year on appeal.

 

A woman watches a video of influencer Mowada al-Adham, who was sentenced to two years in jail on charges of violation public morals, on the video-sharing app TikTok in Egypt’s capital Cairo on July 28, 2020. (Photo by Khaled DESOUKI / AFP)

 

“The charges of spreading debauchery or violating family values are very loose… and its definition is broad,” said Saeed.

Egypt has in recent years enforced strict internet controls through laws allowing authorities to block websites seen as a threat to national security and to monitor personal social media accounts with over 5,000 followers.

 

 

 

-AFP

India Bans 47 More Chinese Apps

In this file photo taken on June 30, 2020, Indian mobile users browse through the Chinese owned video-sharing 'Tik Tok' app on smartphones in Amritsar. NARINDER NANU / AFP
In this file photo taken on June 30, 2020, Indian mobile users browse through the Chinese owned video-sharing ‘Tik Tok’ app on smartphones in Amritsar. NARINDER NANU / AFP

 

India has banned 47 more Chinese apps just weeks after blocking the highly popular video-sharing platform TikTok and 58 others over national security and privacy concerns, an information ministry official and media reports said Monday.

Tensions between the world’s two most-populous nations soared last month after a Himalayan border clash that left 20 Indian troops dead and an unknown number of Chinese casualties.

“We have banned 47 mobile apps from China in this ongoing exercise which highlights the government’s seriousness about data privacy and security,” the official, who asked to remain anonymous, told AFP.

“The order was issued on Friday. Most of these 47 apps are banned for the same reasons as the earlier 59, and many were lite versions or variants of the earlier banned applications.”

There has been no official statement or order released by the government about the ban but it has been widely reported across major Indian media.

Anti-China sentiment has soared since the deadly fight in mid-June, which sparked street protests and calls for Chinese products to be banned in the nation of 1.3 billion people.

Local media on Monday said 275 other Chinese apps could also be on the chopping block over similar concerns, including the hugely popular “PUBG Mobile” game owned by tech giant Tencent.

From toys, cosmetics and handbags to home appliances, pharma, auto components, and steel, China exports more than 3,000 products to India.

 

AFP

Domestic Workers Among Few Hong Kongers Who Will Miss Tiktok

A photo taken on December 14, 2018 in Paris shows the logo of the application TikTok. - TikTok, is a Chinese short-form video-sharing app, which has proved wildly popular this year. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)
A photo taken on December 14, 2018 in Paris shows the logo of the application TikTok. – TikTok, is a Chinese short-form video-sharing app, which has proved wildly popular this year. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

 

 

TikTok’s exit from Hong Kong was met with a shrug among many locals who distrust the Chinese social media platform, but the app had been embraced by many foreign domestic workers as a way to creatively escape the drudgery of their toil.

The globally popular video-sharing app was used by many of the city’s 370,000 foreign helpers, as they are commonly known in the finance hub.

In between cooking, cleaning and childcare duties in Hong Kong’s cramped family homes they filmed creative, witty and sometimes scathing insights into their daily lives.

But this week TikTok, owned by China’s ByteDance, said it would no longer work in Hong Kong after a new security law imposed by Beijing gave authorities sweeping powers to police local users.

Joane, a domestic worker from the Philippines, said she was “a bit sad” to see the app go.

“It also helped me release some stress,” she told AFP.

“Being away from family, financial problems, stress from work” are among the challenges faced by helpers in the city, she said, adding that the app’s popularity had taken off since the coronavirus pandemic meant workers like her were often stuck at home.

Poorly paid domestic workers, primarily from the Philippines and Indonesia, are the cogs that keep Hong Kong’s economic engine running, enabling both parents of a family to hold down full-time jobs in the notoriously expensive city.

Domestic workers must live with their employers in Hong Kong’s tiny flats, are only entitled to one day off a week and often grapple with stressful work environments.

“When (your) employer makes you… non-stop do this and do that and do this and so on,” reads the text in a video Joane posted in May.

“Breathe in, breathe out… And say ‘yes ma’am, yes sir’.”

– Limited traction –
So popular is TikTok among women like Joane that the hashtag #ofwhk — “overseas foreign worker Hong Kong” — has been viewed nearly 12 million times on the platform.

Local recruitment specialist Mirian Sim said she began using the app herself to communicate with and recruit migrant workers when she noticed how big its user base had become.

“I started using it as a way to bond with our existing helpers, to spread positive vibes and information for them,” said Sim, whose agency Garford describes itself as an “ethical employment agency” that specialises in hiring Filipino helpers.

But enthusiasm for the platform from foreign workers — and teenagers around the world — stands in stark contrast to the rest of Hong Kong.

TikTok has gained little traction in the city, reporting just 150,000 local users last August.

By comparison, Facebook currently has 5.6 million local users and Instagram has 2.6 million, according to analytics company NapoleonCat.

In a city rocked by anti-Beijing sentiment, few trust ByteDance’s repeated assurances that it does not share any user information with Chinese authorities.

Online forums used by Hong Kong democracy protesters have long advised people against downloading it, echoing security fears raised by the US government.

Joane said domestic workers could ultimately live without the app.

“We find TikTok very entertaining, but I know even if TikTok will be pulled out of Hong Kong, a lot of Filipino domestic workers can still manage,” she said.

“We always find ways to entertain ourselves.”

 

 

AFP

Trump Says Considering TikTok Ban As China Row Deepens

 

 

US President Donald Trump said he is considering banning the wildly popular video-sharing app TikTok as a way to punish China over the coronavirus pandemic, remarks China described Wednesday as “a malicious smear”.

TikTok has been caught up in the escalating disputes between the United States and China, with the Chinese-owned firm accused of acting as a spying tool for Beijing — an allegation it denies.

“It’s something we’re looking at,” Trump said during a TV interview on Tuesday when asked about a possible ban, according to Bloomberg News.

“It’s a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful.”

Trump did not provide any details, and told Gray Television that it was “one of many” options he was considering against China, Bloomberg added.

The United States is the country worst-hit by the virus, which the American president has blamed on poor management and a lack of transparency in China — which has rejected the allegation.

“The remarks made by some politicians in the US are totally groundless and a malicious smear,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Wednesday when asked about Trump’s comments on TikTok and China’s role in the pandemic.

“The Chinese government has always asked Chinese businesses to conduct cooperation overseas on the basis of law and compliance,” he told a regular press briefing.

Trump’s comments came a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US government was looking at banning Chinese apps — including TikTok — over espionage concerns.

TikTok is estimated to have close to one billion users worldwide, but despite the huge popularity, it has long battled allegations that it is a spying tool for Beijing, with critics pointing to the fact that it is owned by a Chinese firm — ByteDance.

The firm has consistently stressed that it does not share user information with the Chinese government.

“TikTok is led by an American CEO, with hundreds of employees and key leaders across safety, security, product, and public policy here in the US,” a TikTok spokesperson told Bloomberg.

“We have never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we do so if asked.”

TikTok has been caught up in another international spat too — it was among the dozens of Chinese apps banned by India over national security concerns after a deadly border clash between its soldiers and Chinese troops.

And on Monday, TikTok said it was pulling out of Hong Kong after a new national security law imposed by China gave authorities sweeping powers to police the internet.

 

 

-AFP

US Looking At Banning TikTok, Other Chinese Apps – Pompeo

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a briefing at the State Department on February 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Secretary Pompeo spoke on several topics including the coronavirus and the recent truce with the Taliban. Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP

 

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the US is “looking at” banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok, over allegations Beijing is using them to spy on users.

India has already barred the wildly popular TikTok app over national security and privacy concerns while other countries are reportedly mulling similar measures.

Asked on Monday by Fox News’s Laura Ingraham if the US should consider blocking the apps — “especially Tik Tok” — the country’s top diplomat said the Trump administration was “taking this very seriously; we are certainly looking at it.”

Pompeo said the US had been working for a “long time” on the “problems” of Chinese technology in infrastructure and was “making real progress.”

“With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too,” he said.

“I don’t want to get out in front of the president, but it’s something we are looking at.”

Pompeo earlier lashed out at what he called China’s “Orwellian” moves to censor activists, schools and libraries in Hong Kong under a sweeping new security law.

Authorities in the financial hub have ordered schools to remove books for review under the law, which has criminalized certain opinions such as calls for independence or more autonomy.

Libraries in Hong Kong said they were pulling titles written by a handful of pro-democracy activists.

“The Chinese Communist Party’s destruction of free Hong Kong continues,” Pompeo said in a sharply worded statement.

“With the ink barely dry on the repressive National Security Law, local authorities — in an Orwellian move — have now established a central government national security office, started removing books critical of the CCP from library shelves, banned political slogans, and are now requiring schools to enforce censorship,” he said.

Pompeo condemned what he called the “latest assaults on the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”

“Until now, Hong Kong flourished because it allowed free thinking and free speech, under an independent rule of law. No more,” he said.

Beijing has faced a groundswell of criticism from primarily Western nations over its decision to impose the security law, which outlaws acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces.

US Vice President Mike Pence told CNBC last week that the law was a “betrayal” and “unacceptable to freedom-loving people around the world.”

Last week the US Congress passed tough new sanctions targeting banks involved in violating Hong Kong’s autonomy.

The act would punish banks — including by blocking loans from US institutions — if they conduct “significant transactions” with officials who violate the city’s autonomy.

President Donald Trump must sign the legislation for it to take effect.

AFP

China Censors Hong Kong Internet, US Tech Giants Resist

A photo taken on December 14, 2018 in Paris shows the logo of the application TikTok. - TikTok, is a Chinese short-form video-sharing app, which has proved wildly popular this year. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)
A photo taken on December 14, 2018 in Paris shows the logo of the application TikTok. – TikTok, is a Chinese short-form video-sharing app, which has proved wildly popular this year. (Photo by JOEL SAGET / AFP)

 

 

China has unveiled new powers to censor Hong Kong’s internet and access user data using its feared national security law — but US tech giants have put up some resistance citing rights concerns.

The online censorship plans were contained in a 116-page government document released on Monday night that also revealed expanded powers for police, allowing warrantless raids and surveillance for some national security investigations.

China imposed the law on semi-autonomous Hong Kong a week ago, targeting subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces — its wording kept secret until the moment it was enacted.

Despite assurances that only a small number of people would be targeted by the law, the new details show it is the most radical change in Hong Kong’s freedoms and rights since Britain handed the city back to China in 1997.

Late Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke out against “Orwellian” moves to censor activists, schools and libraries since the law was enacted.

“Until now, Hong Kong flourished because it allowed free thinking and free speech, under an independent rule of law. No more,” Pompeo said.

– Restore stability –
Under its handover deal with the British, Beijing promised to guarantee until at least 2047 certain liberties and autonomy not seen on the authoritarian mainland.

Years of rising concerns that China’s ruling Communist Party was steadily eroding those freedoms birthed a popular pro-democracy movement, which led to massive and often violent protests for seven months last year.

China has made no secret of its desire to use the law to crush that democracy movement.

“The Hong Kong government will vigorously implement this law,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the city’s Beijing-appointed leader, told reporters on Tuesday.

“And I forewarn those radicals not to attempt to violate this law, or cross the red line, because the consequences of breaching this law are very serious.”

With pro-democracy books quickly pulled out of libraries and schools, the government signalled in the document released on Monday night that it would also expect obedience online.

Police were granted powers to control and remove online information if there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect the data breaches the national security law.

Internet firms and service providers can be ordered to remove the information and their equipment can be seized. Executives can also be hit with fines and up to one year in jail if they refuse to comply.

The companies are also expected to provide identification records and decryption assistance.

– Big tech unease –
However the biggest American tech companies offered some resistance.

Facebook, Google and Twitter said Monday they had put a hold on requests by Hong Kong’s government or police force for information on users.

Facebook and its popular messaging service WhatsApp would deny requests until it had conducted a review of the law that entailed “formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts,” the company said in a statement.

“We believe freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions,” a Facebook spokesman said.

Twitter and Google told AFP that they too would not comply with information requests by Hong Kong authorities in the immediate future.

Twitter told AFP it had “grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law”.

Tik Tok, which is owned by Chinese company Byte Dance, announced it was pulling out of Hong Kong altogether.

“In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong,” TikTok told AFP.

Tik Tok has become wildly popular amongst youngsters around the world. However many Hong Kongers have distrusted it because of its Chinese ownership.

ByteDance has consistently denied sharing any user data with authorities in China, and was adamant it did not intend to begin to agree to such requests.

In less than a week since the law was enacted, democracy activists and many ordinary people have scrubbed their online profiles of anything that China may deem incriminating.

Monday night’s document also revealed that judicial oversight that previously governed police surveillance powers in Hong Kong had been eliminated when it comes to national security investigations.

Police officers will be able to conduct a search without a warrant if they deem a threat to national security is “urgent”.

“The new rules are scary, as they grant powers to the police force that are normally guarded by the judiciary,” barrister Anson Wong Yu-yat told the South China Morning Post.

Tiktok Pledges $250m For COVID-19 Relief

 

TikTok, the fast-growing mobile video app, pledged Thursday to contribute $250 million to coronavirus relief efforts around the world.

TikTok, which US officials and lawmakers have assailed for potential security risks, said the funds would be for “front line medical workers, educators, and local communities deeply affected by the global crisis.”

The move follows similar announcements from technology firms including Google, Facebook and Netflix as well as from leaders of Microsoft, Amazon and Twitter.

“We are committed to playing our part in that global outpouring of mutual support and giving,” TikTok president Alex Zhu said in a statement.

“We want to magnify all we are seeing across our community and translate it into concrete relief for those most affected by this crisis.”

TikTok said $150 million of the funds would be allocated for medical staffing, supplies, and hardship relief for health care workers through the US Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and agencies working to distribute supplies in hard-hit countries including India, Indonesia, Italy and South Korea.

Another $40 million will be donated to “organizations that serve groups representative of TikTok’s diverse user communities, including musicians, artists, nurses, educators, and families that have come together on our platform,” Zhu said.

TikTok said it would match $10 million in donations to its “community relief fund,” with some of that going to artists, songwriters, and music professionals hurt by cancelled performances and gig work.

Another $50 million will be applied to a “creative learning fund” to support distance learning efforts worldwide.

TikTok, popular with teens for its short music videos, has become one of the most widely used social platforms in recent months and has seen interest surge during the pandemic.

The application, owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, saw 65 million worldwide downloads in March, according to analytics site SensorTower.

But officials from the FBI, the Justice Department and Homeland Security have warned that the video-sharing app could become another tool exploited by Chinese intelligence services.

TikTok has denied any ties with the Chinese government and notes that the app does not exist in China.