On Thursday evening, President Trump signed two executive orders banning U.S. citizens and companies from making transactions with ByteDance and Tencent, the Chinese companies that own TikTok and WeChat, respectively.
The orders will take effect in 45 days, on September 15, to allow U.S. companies to potentially acquire the apps – particularly TikTok, which has been in talks with Microsoft in recent days.
"This 45-day delay will give Microsoft and other interested purchasers time to reach a deal with TikTok's owners that adequately addresses the national security concerns posed by the app," said a White House official.
Trump referenced the security risk posed by technology companies controlled by China's communist regime.
"The spread in the United States of mobile applications developed and owned by companies in the People's Republic of China (China) continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States," reads the order. "To protect our Nation, I took action to address the threat posed by one mobile application, TikTok. Further action is needed to address a similar threat posed by another mobile application, WeChat."
The orders reference several examples of the abuse of data by the companies:
- The March 2019 discovery of a Chinese database with billions of WeChat messages from around the world
- The censoring of content by both companies that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive
- TikTok's ability to collect personal information, location data, and search histories for its one billion global users
The order also mentions that the the United States Armed Forces banned TikTok on government phones, beginning with the U.S. Navy in 2019, and that India recently banned TikTok and 105 other Chinese applications over similar security concerns.
A bipartisan statement from Senate Democrats in October 2019, led by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), called TikTok "a potential counterintelligence threat we cannot ignore." TikTok was also placed under a national security investigation in November 2019.
TikTok said it was "shocked" by the president's order in a Friday press release.
"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 said.
WeChat owner Tencent had seen its stock fall 10% after the order, roughly a $46 billion loss. Before the drop, Tencent was the world's eighth-largest company by market capitalization.