The boss of the German media conglomerate that owns US outlets like Politico called Tuesday for a sweeping ban on TikTok, arguing the video-sharing app’s ties to the Chinese government constitute a threat to democratic nations.

Mathias Döpfner, the head of Axel Springer, argued democratic nations are “naïve and dangerous” to allow TikTok to operate.

“TikTok should be banned in every democracy,” Döpfner said during an appearance at the Vox Media Code Conference in Los Angeles, according to The Wrap.

Döpfner, whose company also owns Insider and Morning Brew, claimed TikTok is a “tool of espionage” that allows the Chinese government to track the personal data of millions of foreign users.

“TikTok should be banned in every country,” Döpfner reiterated. “We have at the moment a naïveté with dealing with China … We hand over personal data to the Chinese government.” 

Mathias Döpfner
Mathias Döpfner argued TikTok is a spying tool for the Chinese government.
Getty Images

The Post has reached out to Axel Springer and to TikTok for comment on Döpfner’s remarks.

TikTok is a subsidiary of China-based ByteDance. The popular video-sharing app boasts more than 1 billion active users around the world.

The app has drawn unprecedented scrutiny in recent years, with prominent lawmakers and others raising concerns that Beijing could improperly snoop on US-based users. TikTok was nearly banned under the Trump administration, which argued the app was a national security risk, but a federal judge blocked the effort.

TikTok
TikTok is a subsidiary of China-based ByteDance.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

Security concerns escalated earlier this year after BuzzFeed News reported that leaked audio clips from internal meetings revealed China-based employees of ByteDance had repeatedly accessed the data of US users.

The leaked recordings suggested that ByteDance’s ability to access US user data was more extensive than previously known. At one point, a TikTok director said an unnamed engineer in China was “Master Admin” who “has access to everything.”

TikTok has pushed back on the concerns, arguing that it operates separately from ByteDance and that Beijing does not have access to US user data. The company recently migrated data for American users to servers operated by Oracle.

TikTok
TikTok has denied having ties to the Chinese government.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

But FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to ban TikTok from their app stores.

“At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data,” Carr wrote in a letter to Apple and Google. “Indeed, TikTok collects everything from search and browsing histories to keystroke patterns and biometric identifiers, including faceprints … and voiceprints.”

In a separate development this week, Döpfner faced criticism on Twitter after a report revealed that he had praised former President Donald Trump in emails ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

“Do we all want to get together for an hour in the morning on November 3 and pray that Donald Trump will again become President of the United States of America?” Döpfner wrote in the email, which was first reported by the Washington Post.

Döpfner initially denied writing the email, but later admitted he “could” have sent it “as an ironic, provocative statement in the circle of people that hate Donald Trump.”



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Tyler Cowan