An executive order issued by President Trump late Thursday would ban business with ByteDance’s TikTok app 45 days after its issuance.
That expiration date would land just days after the Sept. 15 deadline Microsoft gave itself Sunday to sign a deal to buy that popular video app’s U.S. assets—a transaction that Trump had green-lighted only two days after vowing to ban the app by Saturday.
The actual language of the order, however, does not specify what Apple or Google, whose app stores host TikTok’s apps, should do at that point. It prohibits “any transaction by any person” but two paragraphs down says that in 45 days, the Secretary of Commerce “shall identify the transactions” subject to that prohibition.
A second executive order posted Thursday would impose the same restriction on Tencent’s WeChat messaging and commerce app, widely used by Americans doing business with Chinese firms.
“There’s a lot of ambiguity here,” said Harold Feld, senior vice president with the Washington-based tech-policy nonprofit Public Knowledge. In an interview, he noted that the word “transaction” is itself left undefined in the order.
So would it require Apple and Google to kick TikTok out of their app stores? “I think that the secretary would have to tell them to,” Feld said. He added that it was even less clear if internet providers would have to block traffic to already-installed copies of TikTok’s apps or its web app.
Tuesday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco tech-policy non-profit, argued that such an order to Apple and Google would raise First Amendment issues, were Apple and Google to decide to challenge one in court.
The American Action Forum, another Washington tech-policy non-profit that operates to the right of Public Knowledge, warned against setting a precedent of government interference in the tech market.
“Overly broad responses such as a complete ban on Americans using the app could call into question America’s hands-off approach to technology that has allowed a free market to flourish,” director of technology and innovation policy Jennifer Huddleston wrote in a post Friday.
“I have no doubt that this is a boost to Microsoft,” Public Knowledge’s Feld concluded. The Financial Times reported Thursday that Microsoft was considering expanding its bid to cover all of TikTok.
This order may also boost the prospects of Reels, a new Instagram feature that debuted Wednesday and essentially clones TikTok’s mechanics.
TikTok itself responded Friday with a post on its corporate blog in which the company pronounced itself “shocked” by Trump’s order, saying that “we have sought to engage with the U.S. government in good faith” for almost a year.
The post vowed that TikTok would resist Trump’s order: “We will pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and our users are treated fairly – if not by the Administration, then by the U.S. courts.”