Depending on how the order is interpreted, it may effectively require Apple and Google to remove TikTok from their app stores, as was called for this week by secretary of state Mike Pompeo. However, it is unclear whether Mr Trump has the legal authority to order that.
Signed alongside a similar attack on Chinese app WeChat, the order comes into effect in 45 days’ time, at which time all transactions with parent company ByteDance will be banned in the US. It does not explain what it means by “transactions” – and depending how the order is in interpreted, that could extend as far as users accepting the app’s terms and conditions when installing it on their phones.
Mr Trump’s order comes after months of tough talk from the his administration directed at all aspects of Chinese government’s behaviour, from trade and data espionage to the treatment of Uighur people in Xinjiang province and the rollout of restrictive governance in Hong Kong.
The order cites many of these grievances, pointing out that TikTok “reportedly censors content that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive” and “may also be used for disinformation campaigns that benefit the Chinese Communist Party” – including false claims related to the coronavirus pandemic.
TikTok’s critics also claim the app can also be used to collect reams of information about its users from their devices, and has already been banned by the US government from federal employees’ phones. Citing these concerns, the order points to a recent decision by the Indian government to ban the app throughout the country, claiming it sent children’s data back to servers in China.
Mr Trump has been threatening to ban TikTok for some time. Last week, he said he was planning to do so in a matter of days, but at the weekend was apparently dissuaded by Microsoft, which says it is in talks to buy the app “subject to a complete security review”.