MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
It's a stressful time to be an employee at TikTok. The Trump administration is trying to force the app to sever ties with its Chinese owner. Its options are find a buyer or be banned in the U.S. NPR's Bobby Allyn spoke to one TikTok employee about what it's like to be working at the hit video-sharing app while it's facing an existential crisis.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Patrick Ryan is sitting on a couch in the garage of his house in California's San Mateo County. He's an intense, wiry guy wearing aviator-style glasses and cowboy boots. Scrolling through his laptop, he sees message after message from his colleagues at TikTok.
PATRICK RYAN: Sometimes, it's anxiety. Sometimes, it's anger. Sometimes, it's disappointment. Sometimes, it's rage, you know. It's a mixture of things, and it brings up all of these emotions.
ALLYN: Yes, it's an emotional experience when the president of the United States is trying to put your company out of business. Ryan is a technical manager at TikTok. He's also a lawyer. He dealt with his anger about Trump's action by suing the administration in federal court over Trump's August 6 executive order.
RYAN: It's going to be prohibited for our company and for anybody to transfer money to us or for us to make any payment to any transaction of any kind for any person. And so we want to stop that, but we also want to make sure that we can continue to get paid.
ALLYN: Ryan remembers the Friday night in late July when President Trump declared aboard Air Force One that he was going to ban TikTok. Fittingly enough, Ryan first found out about it from his two daughters, who are 15 and 13. They saw it on TikTok. Since then, TikTok has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the company, but Ryan is forging his own path. He's raising money for the suit online. TikTok isn't officially part of his legal battle, but the company did not discourage him.
RYAN: I hear from employees all the time on a one-to-one basis in terms of what their concerns are and their fears in many ways. The questions are all very similar about, you know, what does this mean? Does this really mean that I'm going to lose my job?
ALLYN: It could, but Trump's crackdown could also just mean TikTok's 1,500 hundred employees will soon get a new corporate owner, maybe even Microsoft and Walmart, which have put in a joint bid. That would solve the problems with the TikTok the administration cites. They say having a Beijing parent company leaves Americans' data susceptible to Chinese authorities. Experts say under Chinese law, companies must comply with government requests. But Ryan, who oversees TikTok's servers, says he knows firsthand that the data of Americans stays in the U.S.
RYAN: I spend a lot of time, you know, making sure that that network is safe and understanding what's going on. And one of the areas that I deal with are vulnerabilities and other areas. And so we look very closely at the data flows of the network. I can say with extreme confidence that there is no shadow network.
ALLYN: Ryan thinks TikTok is being unfairly singled out because its top executives are in China. He says while companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft make products that are banned in China, all of the companies have a significant presence there.
RYAN: Nobody's accusing the management in Apple China of controlling Apple USA, so I don't know why that's the case here.
ALLYN: In the midst of talks about TikTok's future, the company's U.S.-based top executive, Kevin Mayer, quit. Ryan says that was a blow to the company, but it won't stop his quest to fight for TikTok employees.
Bobby Allyn, NPR News. San Francisco.
(SOUNDBITE OF ANITEK'S "NIGHTLIFE")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.