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Nearly half of Americans fear TikTok would give their data to the Chinese government

  • TikTok’s ties to China prompted President Donald Trump to try and ban the app in the US.
  • Some 48% of Americans think the app would give their data to the country, a new book reveals.
  • The polling, the first to explore US attitudes on the issue, was shared exclusively with Insider.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Nearly half of Americans think TikTok would give their data to the Chinese government if it asked, a poll shared exclusively with Insider has found.

The app’s ties to China, which is home to its parent company ByteDance, prompted President Donald Trump to attempt to ban it in 2020 on national security grounds.

The polling, the first to explore US attitudes on the issue, found that 48% of Americans worried that TikTok would accede to a request from the Chinese Government for user data if asked. Some 35% agreed TikTok was a national security threat and nearly half said they did not trust it to handle their personal data.

Among those aged 18 to 34, a key demographic for the app, 45% believed it would give their data to China. 

The polling, by Opinium, was commissioned for “TikTok Boom: China’s Dynamite App and the Superpower Race for Social Media” by journalist Chris Stokel-Walker, who has reported for Insider on the reputational threat posed by TikTok’s ties to China.

“For nearly six months, TikTok was on the front lines of a battle for survival in a war waged by Donald Trump,” Stokel-Walker said. “This first-time analysis of US public perception shows just how damaging a fight it was.

“TikTok hasn’t yet claimed victory in the battle for its survival – and quite rightly. While Donald Trump went away when he lost the election, Joe Biden’s approach to China, and to TikTok, shows he’s equally skeptical. So too are the American public.”

The poll found:

  • When asked whether they worried “TikTok may share my data with the Chinese government”, 24% “strongly” agreed and another 24% “tended to agree.” Only 16% disagreed.
  • When asked if TikTok posed a national security threat, 17% strongly agreed and 18% tended to agree, while 22% disagreed.
  • Only 19% said they trusted TikTok to look after their personal data, while 48% disagreed.
  • 58% agreed TikTok was “Chinese-owned,” while 7% disagreed.

Stokel-Walker said: “TikTok has repeatedly denied any allegations that it has connections to the Chinese state, and
categorically says it would not hand over any data if asked.

“Its major problem is that half the American population seem not to believe a word of it. For a company still fighting off the threat of legislative closure, it’s an uphill battle to fight.

“We’ve become enamored with TikTok, with Americans ditching traditional television and streaming services in favour of the app.

“But users are seemingly going on the app with one eye looking over their shoulder.”

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported on polling for the book that revealed a third of British people also feared TikTok would give their data to China.

A TikTok spokesperson told Insider: “Millions of people around the world love creating, sharing and being entertained on TikTok and we take our responsibility to protect their information seriously.

“As we have made clear previously, TikTok user data is stored on secure servers in the US and Singapore. TikTok has never provided user data to the Chinese government, nor would we if asked.

“This is reflected in our regular Transparency Reports, which detail the requests we receive from governments around the world.” 

Theo Bertram, its head of public policy in Europe, told the BBC last June, “The suggestion that we are in any way under the thumb of the Chinese government is completely and utterly false.”

Opinium surveyed 2,006 American adults between March 26 and April 6, 2021.

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