The Slatest

Trump Says He Will Ban TikTok From Operating in the United States

This illustration picture taken on May 27, 2020 in Paris shows the logo of the social network application Tik Tok on the screen of a phone.
This illustration picture taken on May 27, 2020 in Paris shows the logo of the social network application Tik Tok on the screen of a phone. MARTIN BUREAU/Getty Images

President Donald Trump said he would ban Chinese-owned TikTok from operating in the United States, the latest sign that the administration is ready to take harsh action amid concern about the personal data that the popular app handles. “As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump told reporters Friday night, claiming he could use emergency economic powers or an executive order to carry out the action. “I have that authority,” he said. “It’s going to be signed tomorrow.”

Trump spoke amid reports that the White House was getting ready to order China’s ByteDance to sell TikTok and that Microsoft was in talks to buy the app that allows users to create short videos and is particularly popular with young people. A deal could be completed by Monday, according to the Wall Street Journal. But Trump’s move could end up pouring cold water on those plans as he also seemed to dismiss speculation of a possible purchase. “Not the deal that you have been hearing about, that they are going to buy and sell… and Microsoft and another one. We are not an M&A country,” Trump said, referring to mergers and acquisitions.

Trump’s threat came amid reports that efforts by Microsoft to buy the firm were complicated by ByteDance’s valuation expectations of more than $50 billion and its insistence of retaining a minority stake in the firm. But on Saturday morning, Reuters reported that ByteDance had agreed to divest from TikTok’s U.S. operations completely in order to save the deal after Trump’s threat Friday. That means Microsoft would fully take over TikTok in the United States but some ByteDance investors that are already based in the United States may be given the chance to take minority stakes in the business.

Although the president made it seem like the decision was already made, some said other approaches were also being considered, including designating TikTok as a national security threat and essentially banning it from operating on U.S. networks. The administration had already been considering requiring the sale of TikTok’s operations in the United States but there are some within the white House who are opposed to the move. “If TikTok separates as an American company, that doesn’t help us,” White House adviser Peter Navarro said last month. “Because it’s going to be worse—we’re going to have to give China billions of dollars for the privilege of having TikTok operate on U.S. soil.”

The fast-moving developments on TikTok reflect the way concern has grown over the app and its possible influence from the Chinese government as it has exploded in popularity around the world. Branches of the military, for example, have banned the app from government-issued phones while the Pentagon has urged all employees to uninstall the app. Congress is currently discussing a measure that would bar federal employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices. TikTok insists the data of its American users is stored in servers in the United States and Singapore rather than China. But the app’s terms of service make clear the company could share information with its parent company or other affiliates. Its privacy policy has also warned in the past it could share information with Chinese authorities if legally required to do so.

Although extremely rare, the Trump administration has in the past ordered Chinese firms to drop stakes in companies due to national security concerns. Last year, for example, the White House demanded the Chinese owners of gay dating app Grindr to give up control of the firm out of concern that the data could be used to blackmail American officials.

This post has been updated with new information since it was first published.