President Trump Issues Executive Order Forcing Sale of TikTok

Tiktok app - Getty - H 2020
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The popular social video app will be banned in the U.S. in 90 days if it's not sold.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order on Thursday evening barring transactions with ByteDance, forcing the Chinese tech firm to divest itself of its U.S. TikTok operations. 

The order, which was initially scheduled to go into effect in 45 days, gives a strict timeline for ByteDance to sell the business. Microsoft said on Sunday that it was in conversations with the company about acquiring TikTok's operations in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. 

In an executive order signed the evening of Aug. 14, Trump formally gave ByteDance 90 days to sell its American assets. "There is credible evidence that leads me to believe that ByteDance ... might take action that threatens to impair the national security of the United States," wrote Trump in the executive order.

TikTok, which has more than 100 million users in the U.S., has drawn scrutiny because of its Chinese owner. The Trump administration has worried that, through ByteDance, the personal data of U.S. TikTok users could find its way into the hands of the Chinese government. TikTok has said it does not store U.S. user data in China. 

"These risks are real," reads Trump's original order, which cites the International Emergency Economic Powers Act as its basis. "The United States must take aggressive action against the owners of TikTok to protect our national security."

Trump said on July 31 that he was planning to ban TikTok in the U.S. After he spoke with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella over the weekend, he softened his stance slightly, saying he'd give ByteDance until Sept. 15 to sell the business. 

In the lengthy statement that it issued, Microsoft acknowledged Trump's concerns and said it would "build on the experience TikTok users currently love, while adding world-class security, privacy, and digital safety protections." Among the measures it outlined were places to transfer and store all data on American TikTok users to the U.S. and to delete any data that is being backed up on servers outside the country. 

TikTok responded to the executive order in a blog post on Aug. 7, writing that the company was "shocked" by the order, which, it says, "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," the statement reads. "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."

Beyond that, TikTok warned that Trump's 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," the company added in its statement.

Prior to Thursday night's executive order, TikTok maintained that it doesn't plan to exit the U.S., which was the second largest market for the app outside India until it was banned in that country in late June. In a TikTok posted over the weekend, Vanessa Pappas, general manager of TikTok's North American business, highlighted the company's 1,500 U.S. employees and support from its creator community. "We're not planning on going anywhere," she said.

Trump has issued a similar order banning transactions with Tencent and its WeChat messaging service. The executive order, which is also set to go into effect in 45 days, refers to app's operations in the U.S. as a "national emergency." 

Aug. 7, 6:57 a.m. This story has been updated with TikTok's statement in response to the executive order.

Aug. 15, 8:38 a.m.: Updated with 90 day executive order.