TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer has quit the company after US President Donald Trump effectively ordered a ban on the app through two executive orders and the app sued his administration over one of them. TikTok confirmed Mayer’s resignation to MediaNama. Vanessa Pappas, the current general manager of TikTok, will head the company in the interim period, as per the FT report. Mayer had joined as TikTok’s CEO and its parent company ByteDance’s COO in May 2020 after having headed Disney’s streaming division. The Financial Times first reported the development.
Mayer reportedly told TikTok and ByteDance employees about his departure on Thursday via a letter. He cited the “political environment” that has “sharply changed” as his reason for departure. “I understand that 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,” he reportedly wrote, referring to Trump’s August 14 executive order. The order directed ByteDance to divest from its American assets and it rights to any user data that TikTok gathered in the country, within 90 days. It also directed ByteDance to destroy any TikTok data of US users, and report to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) once all the data is destroyed. The sale of TikTok to a third party will also have to be vetted by CFIUS for all practical purposes.
“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. We thank him for his time at the company and wish him well,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement to MediaNama. This is the same statement the company sent to FT.
TikTok has come under intense scrutiny, both in the US and in India, for allegedly sharing data with the Chinese government and thus undermining national security of the two countries, a claim that TikTok has repeatedly denied.
In its lawsuit against Trump’s August 6 executive order that banned all US transactions with ByteDance, TikTok said that it had taken “extraordinary measures” to protect the privacy and security of TikTok’s US user data including storing such data outside of China, in the US and Singapore. It further said that the executive order failed to follow due process and act in good faith, neither providing evidence that TikTok was an actual threat, nor justification for its punitive actions. It had further cited its American senior management, including CEO Mayer, in the lawsuit to argue that as American citizens, they are not subject to Chinese law.
A day before the government of India had banned TikTok and 58 other Chinese apps in the country, Mayer had sent a letter to the Indian government that said that the Chinese government had never requested user data of Indians, and the company would not turn it over if asked.
***Update (12:18 pm): Updated with statement from TikTok. Originally published on August 27, 2020 at 10:27 am.