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Trump Signs Executive Order That Will Effectively Ban Use Of TikTok In the U.S.

President Trump speaks during a briefing with reporters at the White House on Monday.
Image credit: Alex Brandon

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President Trump on Thursday invoked his emergency economic powers to impose broad sanctions against TikTok, a move that was expected but ratchets up pressure on the Chinese-owned app to sell its U.S. assets to an American company.

In the order, which takes effect in 45 days, any business transactions between TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, and U.S. citizens will be outlawed for national security reasons.

In practice, experts told NPR the order likely will mean the viral video service could no longer receive advertising from American companies and the app could be removed from Apple and Google’s app stores.

“When we talk about sanctions against Russian oligarchs and kleptocrats, well, the sanctions are that no American can do business with them,” Stewart Baker, the former general counsel at the National Security Agency, told NPR last month when speculation about the order first began to spread.

Now, that same sanction has been used against TikTok.

For the more than 100 million Americans who have downloaded TikTok, experts say the app may no longer be sent software updates, eventually becoming impossible for the company to manage.

In the order, the White House says TikTok captures vast swaths of information from its users, including location data and Internet search history, data the administration fears could be shared with authorities in Beijing.

“This data collection threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information — potentially allowing China to track the locations of Federal employees and contractors, build dossiers of personal information for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage,” the order reads.

TikTok has downplayed its ties to Beijing, saying data it captures on U.S. users is stored mostly in Virginia. Officials at TikTok also insist the company has never turned over any data to Chinese authorities, despite the county’s broad powers to request such data from private companies.

A federal class-action lawsuit involving dozens of American families claims an independent security review of TikTok revealed that the app is harvesting data, including the facial profiles of American users, and sending it to Chinese servers.

Since the Trump administration began turning up the heat on TikTok, software giant Microsoft has confirmed it is in early talks to acquire the short-form video service.

For Microsoft, a $1.5 trillion company that has focused its business mostly on corporate clients by selling software and cloud computing services, buying TikTok would be its first major foray into a social media platform popular among young users.

Microsoft also owns game console company Xbox, networking site LinkedIn and messaging service Skype.

Officials at Microsoft say it is examining a TikTok acquisition that would potentially buy TikTok’s American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand services, but officials close to the deal say the final offer may include services in even more countries.

Trump’s executive order comes on the same day Facebook launched a new product Reels, a video-sharing app that could to tap into TikTok’s success.

TikTok has accused Facebook of introducing a “copycat” service, accusing the social network of trying of capitalize on the administration’s zeal to punish China for its own benefit.

Trump on Thursday also signed an executive order to restrict the business between China-based Tencent Holdings, the owner of WeChat, and U.S. citizens.

More than a billion people in China use WeChat, an all-in-one app used for messaging, social media and making mobile payments.

“Like TikTok, WeChat automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users,” Trump’s separate executive order reads. “In addition, the application captures the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States, thereby allowing the Chinese Communist Party a mechanism for keeping tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives.”

Also on Thursday, the Senate unanimously passed a bill to ban TikTok on government-issued devices, as the view that the app could pose a national security threat to the U.S. gains new bipartisan support in Washington.

A spokeswoman for TikTok did not immediately return a request for comment about the executive order.

Editor’s note: TikTok helps fund NPR content that appears on the social media platform.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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