US President Donald Trump late Friday lashed out anew at ByteDance, issuing a fresh executive order stating the Chinese internet giant must sell its interest in the Musical.ly app it bought and merged with TikTok.
The order builds on sweeping restrictions issued last week by Trump that TikTok and WeChat end all operations in the US, his latest explosive moves aimed at countering China’s rising global power.
Trump issues new executive order against TikTok
ByteDance bought karaoke video app Musical.y from a Chinese rival about three years ago in a deal valued at nearly a billion dollars. It was incorporated into TikTok, which became a global sensation.
A message to the TikTok community. pic.twitter.com/UD3TR2HfEf
— TikTok US (@tiktok_us) August 1, 2020
Trump’s order contends there is “credible evidence” leading him to believe that ByteDance’s take-over of Musical.ly “threatens to impair the national security of the United States.”
“As we’ve said previously, TikTok is loved by 100 million Americans because it is a home for entertainment, self-expression, and connection,” ByteDance said in response to an AFP inquiry.
“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.”
The order set to take effect in 90 days retroactively prohibits the acquisition and bars ByteDance from having any interest in Musical.ly.
Mnuchin: Order to protect U.S users from exploitation
Reaffirming the order, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement that the government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which examines national security threats, had recommended the action after an exhaustive review “in order to protect U.S. users from exploitation of their personal data.”
Mr. Mnuchin, who is chairman of the panel, known as CFIUS, added, “The order directs ByteDance to divest all interests and rights in any assets or property used to enable or support the operation of TikTok in the United States, and any data obtained or derived from TikTok or Musical.ly users in the United States.”
On Thursday, the Senate unanimously passed my bill to ban @tiktok_us on all government devices. We must act now to keep Americans’ information safe from #ChineseCommunistParty pic.twitter.com/870ewpMenm
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) August 9, 2020
Trump ordered that any sale of an interest in Musical.ly in the US had to be signed off on by the Committee on Foreign Investment, which is to be given access to ByteDance books.
It also ordered that any saved user data be destroyed.
Trump last week made good on threats against WeChat and TikTok — two Chinese-owned apps with major audiences that US officials say pose a national security threat.
Executive order against TikTok extortion?
Through an earlier executive order, he gave Americans 45 days to stop doing business with the platforms, effectively setting a deadline for a potential, under-pressure sale of TikTok to Microsoft.
Trump has also called for the US government to be cut in on the deal, a stance slammed by critics who said it appears unconstitutional and akin to extortion.
Mr. Trump had initially proposed shutting down the app in the United States, but aides informed him that a ban could both prompt an intense legal battle and hurt his popularity with the 100 million Americans who use the app, most of them part of the youngest voting demographic.
A subset of TikTok users first began needling Mr. Trump in June, after boasting that they had registered thousands of tickets to his campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., to falsely elevate predicted turnout and embarrass the campaign. Pro-Trump content is also widespread on the app.
Last week’s move also threw into doubt the US operations of WeChat’s parent firm, Tencent, a powerful player in the video game industry and one of the world’s richest companies. China condemned the move as “arbitrary political manipulation”.
Trump has claimed TikTok could be used by China to track the locations of federal employees, build dossiers on people for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage.
TikTok — used by as many as a billion people worldwide to make quirky, short-form videos on their cellphones — has repeatedly denied sharing data with Beijing.
WeChat is a messaging, social media and electronic payment platform and is reported to have more than a billion users, with many preferring it to email.
The latest US actions follow a protracted battle over Huawei, the Chinese network and smartphone giant accused by the Trump administration of being a tool for espionage.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk