After assessing its options following the Trump administration’s Executive Order, which will essentially force it to sell to a US company, or face a ban in the American market, TikTok has now confirmed that it will indeed be pursuing legal action against the US Government over the official directive.
In a statement, TikTok has explained the pending action, saying that it sees no other option but to challenge the Order:
“Even though we strongly disagree with the Administration’s concerns, for nearly a year we have sought to engage in good faith to provide a constructive solution. What we encountered instead was a lack of due process as the Administration paid no attention to facts and tried to insert itself into negotiations between private businesses.”
The statement echoes similar remarks TikTok made in its initial response to the EO, which TikTok says was put together without “due process or adherence to the law”.
“The text of the decision 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.”
And TikTok may well have a point – while there are significant concerns around TikTok’s operations and processes, there’s no publicly available evidence to prove that it’s actually shared data on US users with the CCP, nor that it’s censored content on behalf of the Chinese regime.
For example, in the White House EO, it notes that:
“TikTok also reportedly censors content that the Chinese Communist Party deems politically sensitive, such as content concerning protests in Hong Kong and China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.”
There has, indeed, been some suggestion that TikTok has filtered out content related to the Hong Kong protests, though no definitive evidence has been found to support such, while TikTok has also sought to clarify various misunderstandings around supposed action it’s taken against creators who’d posted content about China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims.
In neither case is there any definitive evidence – at least, none that would stand up in a legal challenge. Which is why TikTok is now moving to the next stage.
“To ensure that the rule of law prevails and that our company and users are treated fairly, we have no choice but to challenge the Executive Order through the judicial system,”
The action makes sense, though it’s not likely to do much to endear TikTok to US officials, which could, eventually, make things even more difficult for the app.
TikTok’s decision to take the next legal step could also indicate that the negotiations over its potential sale to a US buyer – likely Microsoft – are not progressing as expected. As noted, in TikTok’s initial statement on the Executive Order, it did float the possibility of legal action, but the view was that TikTok would only want to pursue that course of action as a last result, for fear of further pitting itself against the Trump administration.
Microsoft seemingly remains the leading bidder for TikTok, which some have valued at around $30 billion, but there are various concerns which could see the company hesitate in pulling the trigger on such a massive deal.
Could the discussions have deteriorated to a point where TikTok feels the need to take this back-up step? You can be sure that Microsoft, as the potential owner of TikTok, would not be keen on having any involvement in a legal battle with the US Government.
Of course, that case theoretically goes away if the Microsoft deal does go through, but even so, the fact that TikTok is taking this next legal advance could reflect concerns that things are not going to work out as hoped.
But then again, there are other suitors. Oracle was this week revealed as one of several partners in a consortium looking to make a bid for the platform, while Google had also, at one stage, considered contributing to a collective bid for the platform, before changing its mind.
There are, seemingly, options available that would keep the platform running, but TikTok’s decision to head to the courtroom doesn’t seem to be a great sign.
But then again, it could also be a delaying tactic – maybe, if TikTok can delay any decision until after the US Election, it might be able to renegotiate its status with a new Presidential regime. If Trump were to lose the vote – and Trump has repeatedly noted that the action against TikTok is more about punishing China for COVID-19 than it is about security fears. If Trump were no longer in charge, maybe, a new President would be more sympathetic to the situation – or at the least, be more willing to base any such decision in the rule of law, as opposed to thinly veiled vendettas.
Maybe, then, TikTok’s legal action is less about winning the case, as such, and more about prolonging the app’s availability. Which could work, given the official grounds of the initial order.
Either way, according to TikTok general manager Vanessa Pappas, the app is not going anywhere:
“We believe we have multiple paths forward to ensure that we continue to provide this amazing app experience to the millions of Americans who come to rely on it every day.”
Evidently, a legal challenge is another of those paths. Now to see how that plays out – with the app’s September 15th deadline inching ever closer.