President Trump’s former Pennsylvania campaign chairman has been lobbying for TikTok in the U.S. since January of this year.
David Urban, who is now president of the American Continental Group, has been described by Trump as “one of my good friends.” A former artillery officer in the U.S. army, Urban helped oversee an upset victory for the president in Pennsylvania, which had been projected as a win for Hillary Clinton. Urban appears regularly on CNN to give political commentary.
The TikTok app allows users to film and share short videos of themselves dancing and/or singing, and is very popular among teenagers and young adults. The app’s parent company ByteDance, however, is based in Beijing, and has produced a similar app called Doyun for Chinese consumption that spreads propaganda about China’s treatment of Uighurs. Documents leaked earlier this year showed that TikTok itself censored anti-China content as well as mentions of Tibet, Uighurs, or other politically sensitive topics, according to documents leaked from the company last year.
ByteDance is the company that directly hired American Continental Group. ACG has lobbied both houses of Congress as well as the Trump administration on ByteDance’s behalf. Urban and ACG did not immediately respond to National Review‘s request for comment.
ByteDance and TikTok have hired lobbyists in recent months on both ends of the political spectrum, as U.S. scrutiny of China-based businesses has grown amidst the coronavirus pandemic. On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. was considering banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps over concerns that China could gather data from those apps.
TikTok was caught gathering data on millions of users in the U.S. by Apple earlier this year. While the app appears to collect similar amounts of user data as the U.S.-based Facebook, it is unclear what happens to the data afterwards.
“The problem here is not the quantity of data that’s being collected, but rather who else can access it,” Oded Vanunu, head of products vulnerability research at cybersecurity firm Check Point, told Bloomberg on Tuesday. “And those problems exist on the end of data transmission that no one but TikTok can see.”