WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump ordered ByteDance on Friday to divest the US operations of its video-sharing app TikTok within 90 days, the latest effort to ramp up pressure on the Chinese company over concerns about the safety of the personal data it handles.
“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,” Trump said in the order.
Trump’s latest move comes on top of an executive order he issued last week that would prohibit certain transactions with TikTok unless ByteDance divests it within 45 days. ByteDance is already in talks to sell the North America, Australia and New Zealand operations of TikTok to Microsoft Corp.
The new order adds to pressure for ByteDance to divest TikTok, and legally buttresses the US government’s crackdown on the Chinese-owned social media app. It authorizes US officials to inspect TikTok and ByteDance’s books and information systems to ensure the safety of personal data while the sale talks are ongoing.
While TikTok is best known for its anodyne videos of people dancing and going viral among teenagers, US officials have expressed concerns that information on users could be passed on to China’s communist government.
ByteDance said on Friday in response to the order that it is used by 100 million Americans “because it is their home for entertainment, self-expression, and connection. We’re committed to continuing to bring joy to families and meaningful careers to those who create on our platform for many years to come.”
Trump has said he would support an effort by Microsoft to buy TikTok’s American operations if the US government got a “substantial portion” of the proceeds, but has also said there are other interested potential buyers.
Last year, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a US government panel that reviews deals for potential national security risks, opened a new review of ByteDance’s acquisition of app Musical.ly in 2017. That deal created TikTok in its current form.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Friday the order also requires ByteDance to divest “any data obtained or derived from TikTok or Musical.ly users in the United States.”
He said CFIUS “conducted an exhaustive review of the case and unanimously recommended this action to the president in order to protect US users from exploitation of their personal data.”
The Trump administration has stepped up its efforts to purge what it deems “untrusted” Chinese apps from US digital networks. Beyond TikTok, Trump has also issued an order that would prohibit transactions with Tencent Holding Ltd’s WeChat.
Asked on Friday if he was concerned that the sweeping ban on WeChat could prevent Apple Inc from selling iPhones in China, Trump did not express worry.
“I do what’s good in terms of the security of our country,” he told reporters.
A group of major US companies, including Apple, raised concerns this week about the potential negative implications on US firms from the TikTok and WeChat orders.
In another report, Trump said on Saturday he could exert pressure on more Chinese companies such as technology giant Alibaba after he moved to ban TikTok.
Asked at a news conference whether there were other particular China-owned companies he was considering a ban on, such as Alibaba, Trump replied: “Well, we’re looking at other things, yes.”
Trump has been piling pressure on Chinese-owned companies, the latest effort to ramp up pressure over concerns about the safety of the personal data it handles.
Trump, who has made changing the US-China trade relationship a central theme of his presidency, has been sharply critical of China while also praising its purchases of agriculture products such as soybeans and corn as part of a trade agreement reached late last year.
(Reporting by Eric Beech, Alexandra Alper, David Shepardson and Steve Holland; Editing by Mohammad Zargham, Will Dunham, Cynthia Osterman, Richard Chang and Daniel Wallis)