Written By: Annilee Hampton
President Donald Trump and TikTok parent company ByteDance are locked in a tight battle regarding whether the United States will be the next country to join the list of locations where the app is blocked, along with India and Bangladesh.
On Aug. 6, Trump published executive orders declaring that popular video app TikTok, along with the messaging app WeChat, would be removed from United States app stores 45 days from the date that the order was published, or on Sept. 27. Trump cites security concerns regarding the app capturing users’ information, as well as allegations that TikTok censors information the Chinese Communist Party finds to be politically insensitive as the basis for the app’s removal. This announcement was met with widespread backlash not just from the app’s primary user base, but from those who felt that the ban raised concerns regarding freedom of speech. “Banning an app that millions of Americans use to communicate with each other is a danger to free expression and is technologically impractical,” said ACLU Surveillance and Cybersecurity Counsel Jennifer Granick. “With any Internet platform, we should be concerned about the risk that sensitive private data will be funneled to abusive governments, including our own. But shutting one platform down, even if it were legally possible to do so, harms freedom of speech online and does nothing to resolve the broader problem of unjustified government surveillance.”
However, should TikTok find a United States-based buyer by Nov. 14, the app would be saved from a complete ban. Microsoft was initially in talks to purchase the app from parent company ByteDance; however, on Sept. 13, Microsoft announced that ByteDance would not be selling TikTok’s US operations to the company. As reported by The Washington Post, ByteDance instead made a deal with Oracle, giving the U.S. company control over American TikTok users’ data. ByteDance would likely be able to keep a large stake in the app, with Oracle and Walmart Inc. also investing. Initially, Trump said that he had given the deal his blessing, but later changed course, stating that Oracle would need total control over the app. “They will have nothing to do with it, and if they do, we just won’t make the deal,” he said in an interview on Fox News.
On Sept. 23, ByteDance requested that an expedited hearing for a preliminary injunction occur before the deadline, Sept. 27. “There is simply no genuine emergency here that would justify the government’s precipitous actions,” the company said in its filing. “And there is no plausible reason to insist the prohibitions be enforced immediately.” The injunction was granted by Judge Carl Nichols of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. In his ruling, the judge sided with ByteDance’s attorneys, saying that the ban’s restrictions were likely exceeding U.S. authority. “The government has provided ample evidence that China presents a significant national security threat, although the specific evidence of the threat posed by (TikTok), as well as whether the prohibitions are the only effective way to address that threat, remains less substantial,” Nichols stated, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. This decision has given ByteDance more time to sway U.S. and Chinese authorities towards approving the deal with Oracle and Walmart Inc.
As of now, there are 500 million TikTok users, 100 million of whom are from the U.S., and that number is rapidly increasing. Time will tell if the app will remain in U.S. app stores or if American users will have to resort to the use of VPNs to get past the ban.