On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order giving the popular social media app TikTok an ultimatum: be acquired by a US company or risk being banned from the US.
While there have been other foreign apps with potential national security issues in the past, none have been as popular or garnered as much media coverage as TikTok. The WSJ recently reported that TikTok tracked user data in a way that was banned by Google but ended the practice in November 2019. Although there were concerns that the collected user data could be used by the Chinese government for “blackmail and espionage,” TikTok recently released a statement contesting these accusations, saying:
“We have made clear that TikTok has never shared user data with the Chinese government, nor censored content at its request. In fact, we make our moderation guidelines and algorithm source code available in our Transparency Center, which is a level of accountability no peer company has committed to. We even expressed our willingness to pursue a full sale of the US business to an American company.”
TapResearch polled adults across the US to see how the general public felt about the security of foreign-owned apps, such as TikTok. We surveyed 1,003 people ages 18-64 who live in the United States and the full results of this poll can be found here.
Our findings show that many people support banning apps developed by foreign companies, with 40% of respondents indicating that the US should ban all apps from countries that have an interest in spying on Americans and another 30% of respondents saying that the US should ban all foreign social media apps.
“Should the US ban all apps developed in foreign nations?”
Yes, only US-owned social media apps should be allowed for national security reasons (30%)
We should only ban apps from nations who have an interest in spying on Americans, such as Russia, China, etc. (40%)
No, we should not ban any apps (30%)
When the data is broken down by age group, there’s a trend towards more aggressive action by older adults compared to the young adult population. Among 18 to 20-year-olds, 35% of respondents said we should not ban any apps from the US app store, compared to only 18% of adults aged 55 to 64.
While many respondents supported banning foreign-owned apps for national security reasons, the majority (77%) conceded that even US-based social media companies can be infiltrated by foreign governments to spy on Americans.
Finally, we asked if the respondents agreed with President Trump’s executive order banning TikTok in the US. While the largest segment of respondents (31%) indicated that they agree because the Chinese government is using TikTok to spy on Americans, this data is divided across political lines. Respondents who indicated that they were conservative were more likely to agree with the President’s order, compared to the liberal groups, where a larger proportion did not agree with the executive order.
In the slightly and very liberal groups, 37% and 39% of respondents, respectively, said “No [I do not agree], US-owned social media companies are also not secure”, compared to 16% of the very conservative group. In the very conservative group, 71% of respondents agreed with the order banning TikTok either because the app was used by the Chinese government to spy on Americans or because it will put pressure on Microsoft to acquire TikTok’s US business.
All in all, our poll suggests that many Americans are concerned about foreign-owned social media apps using their technology for espionage. The example of TikTok, however, shows that although being spied on is a concern, President Trump’s response is not overwhelmingly popular and opinion varies across the political spectrum.
About the Poll
TapResearch conducted this survey across its network of random mobile devices. The poll was conducted on August 7, 2020, with 1,003 respondents.