US ban on TikTok could cut it off from app stores

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON • President Donald Trump's executive order banning China's TikTok could prevent US app stores from offering the popular short-video app and make advertising on the platform illegal, according to a White House document seen by Reuters.

Mr Trump signed an order last week prohibiting deals with TikTok if its parent ByteDance does not reach a deal to divest it in 45 days.

It did not specify the scope of the ban, stating only that the Department of Commerce would define which transactions would be barred at the end of the 45 days.

The White House document, sent to supporters last week, provides insight into the Trump administration's thinking.

It shows that the US government is considering disrupting key aspects of TikTok's operations and funding, amid concerns over the safety of personal data that the app handles.

"Prohibited transactions may include, for example, agreements to make the TikTok app available on app stores... purchasing advertising on TikTok, and accepting terms of service to download the TikTok app onto a user device," the document states.

A source familiar with the White House document verified its authenticity. TikTok did not respond to a request for comment.

Some technology industry experts said eliminating TikTok's ability to be offered on Apple and Google owner Alphabet's app stores, which in turn allow it to be downloaded on iPhone and Android smartphones, could cripple the app's growth.

"That kills TikTok in the US," said cyber-security expert James Lewis of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and Inter-national Studies.

"If they want to grow, these rules are a huge obstacle."

But he added that the US government might not be able to prevent Americans from downloading TikTok from foreign websites.

Apple and Alphabet did not respond to requests for comment.

Following Mr Trump's executive order last week, TikTok told advertisers it would still honour planned ad campaigns, refund any that it cannot fulfil, and work with major influencers to migrate to other platforms in the event of a ban.

Some advertisers told Reuters they were drafting contingency plans and considering other apps for their marketing.

Microsoft has been leading ne-gotiations to acquire the North America, Australia and New Zealand operations of TikTok under the supervision of the Trump administration. A successful deal would make banning transactions with TikTok moot.

The White House document seen by Reuters is not clear on whether the US would implement a similar crackdown on WeChat, the social media app owned by China's Tencent Holdings that Mr Trump also sought to ban in an executive order on last week.

TikTok, which has said it is exploring legal challenges to Mr Trump's order, has 100 million active users in the US, and is especially popular with teenagers.

The company has also said that American user data is safely stored in the United States and Singapore, and that it would not hand over such information to the Chinese government.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2020, with the headline 'US ban on TikTok could cut it off from app stores'. Subscribe