Would you recommend downloading TikTok? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked that question on Monday night on Fox News.
“Only if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party,” he replied.
Asked if he would ban Chinese apps – including TikTok – he said: “I don’t want to get out in front of the president, but it’s something we’re looking at”.
That is a very worrying statement for TikTok.
The huge Chinese social media company has experienced phenomenal growth in the last three years. It’s been downloaded more than two billion times.
But around the world, and not just in the US, TikTok is facing a backlash.
It’s finding out the hard way that being international, a tech company, and Chinese isn’t a great combination right now.
By far its largest market, India, banned TikTok last week, along with 58 other Chinese apps.
Officially security concerns were given as the reason, but that isn’t the whole story.
Two weeks before, a border skirmish on India’s northern frontier with China left 20 Indian soldiers dead. It’s not known how many Chinese troops were killed.
The fighting was said to be gruesome, hand-to-hand combat.
Thousands of miles away, Mr Pompeo said he welcomed India’s move to ban the apps. They “serve as appendages of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state”, he said.
It was a pretty extraordinary statement that flew relatively under the radar. The US government had congratulated the banning of TikTok in another country.
“Good to see India ban 59 popular apps owned by Chinese firm,”tweeted Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the United Nations.
Much of this can be linked to Huawei, says James Sullivan, head of cyber research at British security think-tank Rusi.
“Huawei is the test case,” he says. “It’s probably the start of a trend in the West where sanctions will seek to squeeze, or even sink, large Chinese tech companies”
Distance from China
That has made TikTok extremely nervous, and explains its energetic and painstaking attempts to distance itself from China.
Monday saw TikTok announce it would quit Hong Kong “within days” after a new National Security Law was brought in.
The announcement came after Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp said they would not hand over data to the Hong Kong government.
This was more than a statement from TikTok though – it was a grand gesture. A clear neon-lit sign that says: “TikTok is not close to the Chinese government.”
It’s a strategy TikTok has been following for quite some time.