The Trump Administration Ghosts TikTok Ahead of U.S. Ban

The social media company has averted several tough deadlines already

TikTok is popular with Americans, but not their government. Wachiwit/iStock
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TikTok is, once again, going to court to try and avoid an all-out ban that’s set to take effect Thursday.

This year has been a wild ride for the short-form social video site. As its popularity in the United States has skyrocketed, it has been met with a regulatory salvo by the Trump administration. But oddly, the government has ignored TikTok completely of late. It’s possible, as The Verge put it, that the administration—just voted out of office—has “forgotten about trying to ban” the app.

TikTok is appealing an order from the Committee on Foreign Investment (CFIUS) to divest itself from parent company ByteDance, which had been set for Thursday. The social video app has already averted a U.S. ban recently when a federal judge granted an injunction against an executive order, where the Commerce Department suggested outlawing TikTok app downloads and web traffic.

The problem is that TikTok hasn’t heard from the government for two months.

“For a year, TikTok has actively engaged with CFIUS in good faith to address its national security concerns, even as we disagree with its assessment,” TikTok said in a statement. “In the nearly two months since the president gave his preliminary approval to our proposal to satisfy those concerns, we have offered detailed solutions to finalize that agreement—but have received no substantive feedback on our extensive data privacy and security framework.”

The Trump administration has claimed that TikTok is a national security threat because ByteDance is a Chinese company, though there is no evidence to suggest either entity has shared U.S. user data with the Chinese government. To resolve regulators’ concerns, TikTok agreed to reorganize and sell minority stakes to Oracle and Walmart, two U.S. companies, a deal that President Donald Trump blessed two months ago.

TikTok said that it had requested a 30-day extension to comply with the original executive order, which was issued Aug. 14. The existential threat to the company left TikTok with “no choice but to file a petition in court to defend our rights and those of our more than 1,500 employees in the U.S.”

The petition, filed in an ongoing court case in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., claims the government violated TikTok’s due process rights. CFIUS, an interagency body led by the Treasury Department, began investigating ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of the app Musical.ly, and its order seeks to force ByteDance to divest from TikTok or cease doing business in the U.S.

It’s unclear how the Biden administration, which assumes power in January, will approach TikTok, though experts have told Adweek they expect the new administration to maintain a tough approach to Chinese technology companies.

TikTok was banned in India, its top market, this summer as military tensions flared with China. The company was briefly banned in Pakistan for its content moderation practices, faced regulatory scrutiny in Australia and withdrew from Hong Kong after the semiautonomous region passed a controversial national security law.


@ScottNover scott.nover@adweek.com Scott Nover is a platforms reporter at Adweek, covering social media companies and their influence.
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