TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer has stepped after just two months in charge – ahead of an impending ban by US President Donald Trump.

President Trump on 6 August had signed an executive order that will prohibit US companies from carrying out TikTok-related deals with ByteDance after 45 days (on 15 September).

ByteDance is the China-based owner of TikTok, and the executive order against TikTok (and WeChat owner Tecent) was because the US believes they pose a national security risk because the app collects a lot of data on users, which “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to Americans’ personal and proprietary information.”

Executive order

The US President effectively threatened to ban TikTok unless its US operations are sold to a domestic company.

TikTok has been in talks with potential acquirers including Microsoft, Oracle and Twitter, while some of its US investors may also join the bid.

Earlier this week TikTok announced that it was mounting a legal challenge against the US executive order.

ByteDance is expected to challenge the order on the grounds that its reliance on the International Emergency Economic Powers Act deprives it of due process.

The company also reportedly plans to challenge the US administration’s classification of it as a national security threat.

Into this highly-charged political environment, ByteDance in July hired Kevin Mayer as TikTok CEO.

Mayer also became chief operating officer of ByteDance, CNN reported.

Mayer was Disney’s former head of streaming services, and the many observers welcomed his appointment, as ByteDance sought to give the Chinese-owned app an American image.

CEO departure

But two months later Mayer has announced he is stepping down.

“In recent weeks, as the political environment has sharply changed, I have done significant reflection on what the corporate structural changes will require, and what it means for the global role I signed up for,” Mayer was quoted as saying in a memo to staff, that was obtained by CNN Business.

“Against this backdrop, and as we expect to reach a resolution very soon, it is with a heavy heart that I wanted to let you all know that I have decided to leave the company,” he added.

“The role that I signed up for – including running TikTok globally – will look very different as a result of the US Administration’s action to push for a sell off of the US business,” Mayer reportedly said. “I’ve always been globally focused in my work, and leading a global team that includes TikTok US was a big draw for me.”

There is no doubt that the loss of Mayer is a blow to TikTok, ahead of some structural changes ByteDance is reportedly considering, in light of the US action.

But the Chinese owners said it respected his decision.

“We appreciate that the political dynamics of the last few months have significantly changed what the scope of Kevin’s role would be going forward, and fully respect his decision,” a TikTok spokesperson was quoted by CNN as saying in a statement.

US clampdown

The pressure on TikTok and ByteDance is part of a broader trade-related conflict between the United States and China, which has seen the US take a series of actions against Chinese firms such as Huawei and ZTE.

Earlier this month US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged American companies to remove “untrusted” Chinese-owned technology from their networks.

The administration’s push for a so-called “clean network” was labelled an act of “madness” by Chinese state-backed media.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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