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TikTok to challenge Trump administration over ban

Suban Abdulla
·3-min read
TikTok raises the stakes in tech war with the US by announcing it will sue the Trump administration over a ban.
TikTok raises the stakes in tech war with the US by announcing it will sue the Trump administration over a ban. Photo: Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Chinese-owned app TikTok has said it plans to take legal actions to challenge a ban imposed by US president Donald Trump — with owner ByteDance announcing it will officially file a lawsuit on 24 August.

The US president has been waging a trade war against China since taking office, as well as challenging Beijing on technology, military and economic fronts.

On 14 August Trump issued an executive order that gives TikTok’s owner ByteDance 90 days to divest the US operation of TikTok; it has until 12 November.

Previously, Trump gave TikTok and messaging app WeChat 45 days to find American buyers before threatening to ban US businesses from doing any transactions with the Chinese-owned apps.

Tech giants Microsoft (MSFT) and Oracle (ORCL) are thought to be frontrunners for a possible sale, while Twitter (TWTR) also threw its hat in the ring in early August.

READ MORE: Microsoft reveals talks to buy TikTok, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

TikTok said that it has tried to engage with the US for nearly a year, but it was met with a “lack of due process” and that the Trump administration paid no attention to the facts.

"To ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and users are treated fairly, we have no choice but to challenge the executive order through the judicial system," the company said.

While the video-sharing app, which has 80 million active users in the US, is best known for its anodyne videos of people dancing and going viral, it was accused by the Trump administration of passing data on American users to the Chinese government.

TikTok denies handing over US data to the Chinese authorities, with China blasting Trump’s ban as political.

Trump, raised the possibility of “decoupling” from China — a major purchaser of US goods— in an interview with Fox News, saying the US was not obliged to do business with the country.

Meanwhile, US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin said in June that a decoupling could happen if US companies were not allowed to compete on a level playing field in China.

China recently agreed to buy at least $200bn (£153bn) worth of American goods and services between 2020 and 2021. The two-way trade between the economic powerhouses in 2019 was almost $559bn.

READ MORE: Trump steps up Chinese tech war with new TikTok and WeChat executive order

In July, the US senate voted unanimously to approve a bill prohibiting federal workers from using TikTok on government-issued devices, amid security fears of data collection.

Shortly after announcing the executive order against TikTok in early August, Trump also slapped sanctions on Hong Kong chief Carrie Lam over the Chinese security clampdown following last year’s pro-democracy protests.

TikTok amassed more than one billion downloads after shooting to popularity, particularly with teenagers who were in lockdown due to the coronavirus. Users posts short video clips on a variety of topics from dance to international politics.

Trump’s moves come ahead of the 3 November elections in which the US president, who lags behind rival Joe Biden in the polls — is rigorously campaigning on an increasingly boisterous anti-China message.

The app’s legal suit will raise the stakes of the geopolitical tensions between Washington and Beijing and is sure to provoke the US president to retaliate with aggressive counter-measures.