President Trump has signed an executive order that stipulates a ban on U.S. business transactions with TikTok owner ByteDance beginning on September 20.
The order said the U.S. “must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security.”
The date is significant as it comes just after the September 15 deadline that Microsoft recently set for talks with ByteDance as the computer giant explores a potential acquisition of the U.S. operations of the China-based company. If a deal goes through, ByteDance would no longer have any business dealings in the U.S., allowing TikTok to continue operating there under its new owner.
Trump last week threatened to ban video-sharing app TikTok — which has seen more than a billion downloads globally and 175 million in the U.S. — over fears that user data could fall into the hands of the Chinese government, though ByteDance has always insisted this could never happen.
In the order signed by Trump, the president said steps are needed “to deal with the national emergency with respect to the information and communications technology and services supply chain,” adding that if TikTok data was obtained by the Chinese government, it could potentially allow it to “track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.” It also said that TikTok “reportedly censors content” that the Chinese government deems politically sensitive, and said the app “may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party.”
In a statement posted online (full text at the bottom of this article), TikTok hit back, saying it was “shocked” by the executive order. It said that for nearly a year, it had sought to engage with the U.S. government to find a solution to the issue, but claimed it encountered an administration that “paid no attention to facts, dictated terms of an agreement without going through standard legal processes, and tried to insert itself into negotiations between private businesses.”
TikTok described the claims in the order as vague and broad, and insisted that it “has never shared user data with the Chinese government, nor censored content at its request.” It added that the order risks “undermining global businesses’ trust in the United States’ commitment to the rule of law,” and “sets a dangerous precedent for the concept of free expression and open markets.”
It also suggested that it could take the matter to court, and said that TikTok users have the right to take the matter to their elected representatives, “including the White House.”
Another order signed by Trump on Thursday also bars business transactions linked to WeChat, a popular messaging app owned by China-based Tencent, a huge company that also owns several prominent video game developers, including a stake in Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite. Tencent also has stakes in the likes of Reddit, Spotify, and Universal Music.
The company confirmed to the LA Times late Thursday that the order only concerns transactions related to WeChat, with services linked to Tencent’s wider business unaffected.
With messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger banned in China, U.S.-based users who want to keep in touch with friends and family there often use WeChat, an app that also offers features such as online payments and ridesharing. It means that Tencent also has a database of information on users located in the U.S., a fact that evidently concerns the White House. Like TikTok, WeChat is also accused of censoring content considered politically sensitive by the Chinese government.
The action comes amid increasingly strained ties between Washington and Beijing over a growing number of contentious issues that include an American ban on U.S. firms using equipment made by Chinese tech giant Huawei over spying fears.
Digital Trends has reached out to the affected companies for comment on the executive orders and we will update this article when we hear back.
Below is TikTok’s response in full:
TikTok is a community full of creativity and passion, a home that brings joy to families and meaningful careers to creators. And we are building this platform for the long term. TikTok will be here for many years to come.
We are shocked by the recent Executive Order, which was issued without any due process. For nearly a year, we have sought to engage with the US government in good faith to provide a constructive solution to the concerns that have been expressed. What we encountered instead was that the Administration paid no attention to facts, dictated terms of an agreement without going through standard legal processes, and tried to insert itself into negotiations between private businesses.
We made clear our intentions to work with the appropriate officials to devise a solution to benefit our users, creators, partners, employees, and the broader community in the United States. There has been, and continues to be, no due process or adherence to the law. The text of the decision makes it plain that there has been a reliance on unnamed “reports” with no citations, fears that the app “may be” used for misinformation campaigns with no substantiation of such fears, and concerns about the collection of data that is industry standard for thousands of mobile apps around the world. 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.
This Executive Order risks undermining global businesses’ trust in the United States’ commitment to the rule of law, which has served as a magnet for investment and spurred decades of American economic growth. And it sets a dangerous precedent for the concept of free expression and open markets. We will pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and our users are treated fairly – if not by the Administration, then by the US courts.
We want the 100 million Americans who love our platform because it is your home for expression, entertainment, and connection to know: TikTok has never, and will never, waver in our commitment to you. We prioritize your safety, security, and the trust of our community – always. As TikTok users, creators, partners, and family, you have the right to express your opinions to your elected representatives, including the White House. You have the right to be heard.
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