#parent | #kids | Why Trump Is Threatening Your Teen’s Favorite App: QuickTake

Photographer: Chris Kleponis/Polaris/Bloomberg

When U.S. President Donald Trump declared TikTok a threat to national security, there were more than a few Americans who thought, “What’s that?” Others were confused about how a Chinese-owned service mainly known as a way for teenagers to share short videos showing off their dance moves could become part of what’s been described as a digital Cold War. After Trump issued a pair of executive orders banning U.S. residents from doing business with TikTok and WeChat, another popular Chinese-owned app, the administration also began exploring restrictions on the two biggest Chinese digital payment platforms, Ant Group and Tencent Holdings Ltd.

1. What is TikTok?

The app, which has a sister app in China called Douyin, is a popular platform for lip-syncing and dance videos. Users can film and edit clips up to 60 seconds long inside of the app and share them immediately. TikTok’s central feature is the ForYou page, where algorithms generate an infinite scroll of videos based on a user’s behavior. Fans consider TikTok special because of the sense that anything can show up on your page.

2. How big is it?

Huge and growing fast, at least up till now. More than 2 billion users worldwide have downloaded the app, according to SensorTower estimates. In the first quarter, it generated the most downloads for any app ever in a three-month period, accumulating more than 315 million installs across the Apple Inc. App Store and Google’s Play store. Globally, the U.S. ranks third, with 8.2% of total downloads. Before India banned TikTok in June, the country led with almost a third of global downloads.

3. Why did India ban it?

TikTok was one of 59 Chinese-owned apps that were banned in June after India’s Ministry of Information said the services posed a threat to national security and India’s sovereignty. The move came days after a border dispute between India and China that left 20 Indian soldiers dead.

4. What’s Trump unhappy about?

Before issuing his order, Trump had cited national security in threatening to ban TikTok from the U.S. Some administration officials are concerned that the app is collecting huge amounts of data about American citizens and that China’s government could force ByteDance Ltd., as a Chinese company, to turn over the information. Earlier this year, the Pentagon ordered service members to delete the app from their phones, a move that was followed by some corporations including Wells Fargo.

5. Is that true?

Security experts say that almost every major social media app vacuums up a vast amount of data about users and their contacts. They say there’s not strong evidence that TikTok gathers more, or does more with it, than competitors. U.S. officials haven’t provided any proof that TikTok is sharing information with Beijing. The company has repeatedly denied that it turns over data. However, Chinese companies are required to share data with the government when asked.

6. What about WeChat?

WeChat, owned by Tencent Holdings Ltd., is a messaging platform that offers payment services and other features. WeChat doesn’t have a huge presence in the U.S., but it’s used by more than 1 billion people and has become of a staple of daily life in China. Trump’s executive orders pertain to any transaction over which the U.S. has jurisdiction and prevents transactions involving TikTok’s parent company ByteDance; they block all transactions involving WeChat but doesn’t amount to a broader ban on dealings with Tencent.

7. How about the payment platforms?

U.S. officials are concerned that Ant Group, which is preparing an IPO, and other Chinese fintech platforms will come to dominate global digital payments. That in turn could give China access to banking and personal data of hundreds of millions of people. Yet officials acknowledge that it would be difficult to move forward until they find a legally sound basis for taking action.

8. How do these fit into the broader conflict?

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