President Donald Trump said on Friday night that he will ban the popular TikTok short-form video app from operating in the United States, rejecting Microsoft’s potential deal to buy the app from its Chinese-owned parent company. “We ‘re removing them from the US as far as TikTok is concerned,” Trump told reporters while onboard Air Force One.
Trump said he could use the national emergency powers or an executive order. It was not immediately clear what an order of this kind would look like and what legal challenges it could face.
“Well, I have that power,” he said.
Earlier Friday, people working on the issue within the Trump administration were expecting the President to sign an order pressuring ByteDance, the Chinese company owning the social media platform, to sell TikTok’s US operations, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The move was intended to address the fears of lawmakers that the foreign-owned TikTok may be a national security danger.
The US government is carrying out TikTok’s national security assessment and is planning to make a policy recommendation to Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters at the White House this week.
ByteDance has been exploring improvements in its organizational structure and the prospect of selling a majority stake in TikTok was apparently already being discussed.
According to the New York Times, Microsoft (MSFT) is in negotiations to acquire TikTok citing a person with knowledge of the discussions. Microsoft refused CNN Business to comment. Trump strongly opposed the notion of a potential spin off agreement that would address national security concerns.
The app has grown in popularity in the US and other western countries and has become the first Chinese social media site to gain major traction among consumers outside their home country. According to analytics company Sensor Tower it has been downloaded 315 million times in the first three months of this year, more quarterly downloads than any other app in history.
TikTok’s critics fear that the data it gathers on its U.S. users could end up in the hands of the Chinese government, but TikTok said it would store its data outside of China and resist any attempts by Beijing to capture the information.
“TikTok US consumer data is stored in the U.S., with strict controls on employee access. TikTok ‘s largest investors come from the U.S. We are committed to protecting privacy and security for our users while we continue to work to bring joy to families and successful opportunities to those who build on our site,” TikTok spokeswoman Hilary McQuaide told CNN Business Saturday.
Experts on cybersecurity have said that the potential risk TikTok poses to national security is largely theoretical, and that there is no evidence to suggest that Chinese intelligence has compromised user data from TikTok.