TikTok responded to Donald Trump’s executive order issued Thursday night — to effectively ban the app if its parent company cannot complete a sale to a U.S. entity within 45 days — saying it was “shocked” and that TikTok would launch a legal fight against the president’s move.
TikTok, owned by Chinese internet giant ByteDance, called Trump’s order a “dangerous precedent for the concept of free expression and open markets.”
“We are shocked by the recent Executive Order, which was issued without any due process,” TikTok said in a statement released Friday. “For nearly a year, we have sought to engage with the U.S. government in good faith to provide a constructive solution to the concerns that have been expressed. What we encountered instead was that the Administration paid no attention to facts, dictated terms of an agreement without going through standard legal processes, and tried to insert itself into negotiations between private businesses.”
Spurred by the U.S. government’s threats to shut it down if it remains under the ownership of Beijing-based ByteDance, TikTok is negotiating a sale to Microsoft. Microsoft said it is looking at acquiring TikTok’s U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand businesses, but reportedly now also is considering a deal to acquire all of TikTok’s operations.
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Coming as part of the U.S.’s heightened confrontation with China, Trump invoked the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) in the order against TikTok, and he issued an identical executive order against Tencent-owned WeChat. The separate orders, citing national security concerns, prevent any transactions with WeChat or TikTok by any party or involving any property subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
TikTok said it “will pursue all remedies available to us in order to ensure that the rule of law is not discarded and that our company and our users are treated fairly — if not by the Administration, then by the U.S. courts.”
Last week, the ACLU criticized Trump’s threat to ban TikTok as harmful to free expression and questioned the legality of such an action. On Friday, the advocacy group weighed in on Trump’s executive orders against TikTok and WeChat, calling them an “abuse of emergency powers.”
“This is another abuse of emergency powers under the broad guise of national security,” Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement. “It would violate the First Amendment rights of users in the United States by subjecting them to civil and possibly criminal penalties for communicating with family members, friends or business contacts.” Shamsi added that “Selectively banning entire platforms harms freedom of speech online and does nothing to resolve the broader problem of unjustified government surveillance, including by our own government.”
TikTok pointed out that Trump cited no specific evidence for why, according to the administration, the app — popular primarily with teens and young adults for sharing short lip-syncing and dance videos — “continues to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States.”
“The text of the [Trump order] makes it plain that there has been a reliance on unnamed ‘reports’ with no citations, fears that the app ‘may be’ used for misinformation campaigns with no substantiation of such fears, and concerns about the collection of data that is industry standard for thousands of mobile apps around the world,” TikTok said in its statement Friday.
Now headed by ex-Disney exec Kevin Mayer, TikTok claims 100 million Americans use its short-form video app. The company reiterated that it has “never shared user data with the Chinese government, nor censored content at its request.” The company said it publishes its moderation guidelines and algorithm source code, “which is a level of accountability no peer company has committed to.”
TikTok also says it does not operate any servers in China proper although its app shares code with Douyin, ByteDance’s sister video app for the Chinese market.
Trump’s order against TikTok noted that India banned the app (and several dozen other Chinese mobile applications) in June, amid a border clash between the two countries. In the U.S., government entities including the Department of Homeland Security, the TSA, and military have already banned the use of TikTok on government-owned phones. Meanwhile, Joe Biden’s presidential campaign also has prohibited the use of TikTok as a security precaution.
Even as TikTok’s future remains cloudy, the company is continuing to ink business deals.
TikTok is teaming with “American Idol” creator Simon Fuller to launch a talent search aiming to ID the next music supergroup. And on Thursday, TikTok launched on Amazon’s Fire TV — its first connected-TV app — featuring video compilations, interviews with creators and other content. On Friday The Weeknd is set to perform in a “virtual” livestreamed concert exclusively in TikTok’s mobile app, premiering Aug. 7 at 8:30 p.m. ET.