President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered an unspecified ban on “transactions” with the Chinese owners of the consumer apps TikTok and WeChat.
The twin executive orders — one for each app — take effect in 45 days. They call on the Secretary of Commerce to define the banned transactions by that time. The orders’ wording is vague, but leaves open the possibility that hosting the apps in the Apple and Google app stores could be covered by the ban.
Trump had threatened a deadline of Sept. 15 to “close down” TikTok unless Microsoft or “somebody else” bought it. TikTok, Microsoft and WeChat owner Tencent had no immediate replies to queries.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that he was expanding the U.S. crackdown on Chinese technology to personal apps, citing alleged security threats and calling out TikTok and WeChat by name. Analysts on Wednesday questioned the legal basis for a ban on apps.
Trump’s order Thursday night cited legal authority from the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act.
TikTok is a video-sharing app that’s widely popular among young people in the U.S. and elsewhere. It is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, which operates a separate version for the Chinese market. TikTok insists it does not store U.S. user information in China and would not share it with the Chinese government.
WeChat and its sister app Weixin in China are hugely popular messaging apps; many Chinese expatriates use WeChat to stay in touch with friends and family back home. The apps are owned by Tencent, a major Chinese digital conglomerate.
WeChat also says it doesn’t share data with the Chinese government and never has, and does not store international user data in China. U.S. user data is stored in Canada.