Former Trump official Steve Mnuchin puts forward plan to buy TikTok app

Amid concerns over user privacy and national security, Mnuchin told US media that TikTok ‘should be owned by US businesses’.

Steve Mnuchin
Former United States Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has yet to release full details of his TikTok acquisition plan [File: Graeme Jennings/Pool via Reuters]

Former United States Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin has announced plans to rally investors in the hopes of buying the popular video-sharing app TikTok.

The announcement comes after the House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that seeks to ban the app unless its China-based parent company ByteDance divests from its US operations, amid national security concerns. The Senate, however, has yet to schedule a vote on the bill.

Mnuchin, an investment banker who served under former US President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2021, shared his plans for TikTok on the CNBC business programme Squawk Box on Thursday. As of yet, however, ByteDance has not indicated any intention of selling the app.

“It’s a great business, and I’m going to put together a group to buy TikTok,” Mnuchin explained.

“This should be owned by US businesses. There’s no way that the Chinese would ever let a US company own something like this in China.”

Mnuchin did not provide further details about his efforts, including which investors might be involved in his bid to acquire the app.

But his plans would not be the first attempt to transfer control of TikTok to US hands. In 2020, then-President Trump threw his support behind a proposed deal that would see the app acquired by the tech company Oracle and the retailer Walmart, to form a US-based enterprise.

Legislators in the US have long argued that the widespread use of TikTok constitutes a security threat, given that the app boasts 170 million American users. They fear users’ data could be passed to the Chinese government as intelligence.

Efforts to curtail TikTok’s expansion in the US got a boost on Wednesday, with the House’s vote on a possible TikTok ban. The bill passed by a lopsided margin, with 352 votes in favour and 65 against.

US President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has said he plans to sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk. Its prospects in the Senate, however, are unclear.

ByteDance, however, has repeatedly dismissed US national security concerns, arguing there is no basis for the allegations that it would send user data to the Chinese government. Company spokesperson Alex Haurek denounced the bill’s passage in the House on Wednesday, calling it the product of unfounded concerns.

“This process was secret, and the bill was jammed through for one reason: It’s a ban,” Haurek said.

Civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have also raised concerns that banning TikTok would violate freedom of expression.

“The House of Representatives just passed a bill that would effectively ban TikTok in the United States, violating the free speech rights of millions of Americans who use the platform daily to communicate and stay informed,” the ACLU said in a social media post on Wednesday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies