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TikTok Will Outlast Trump


Feds still fighting for TikTok ban but will delay enforcement. TikTok isn’t quite safe yet, but President Donald Trump’s absurd and authoritarian attempt to effectively ban the app by forbidding Americans from doing business with ByteDance, its parent company, is flailing.

To carry out the president’s order, the Commerce Department declared back in August that as of November 12, 2020, certain business transactions with TikTok—including “any provision of internet hosting services” and “any provision of content delivery network services”—were banned. In September, a federal judge preliminarily rebuffed implementation of the ban, however, and in October, another federal court blocked the Commerce Department from enforcing the ban.

Yesterday, the Commerce Department appealed the latter ruling but also said it would not enforce the order “pending further legal developments.”

“The U.S. crackdown on Chinese social-media apps has been led by President Trump, and it is unclear how President-elect Joe Biden will address the situation,” notes The Wall Street Journal. “Many members of Congress in both parties, however, have sounded alarms about potential Chinese data-gathering and surveillance in the U.S.”

Like their GOP counterparts, Democrats have a history of raising concerns about TikTok and, more broadly, of using data privacy as an excuse to give the government more control of internet data and content. Trump’s move—which seemed calculated to play to his base’s animosity toward China and Big Tech more than anything—may have been more arbitrary but also more limited than the type of data “protection” policies Democrats are dreaming up.

Politicians in both major parties tend to give away the game a little in the details. Trump was OK with TikTok operating so long as it was partially sold to an American company, the U.S. government could possibly get a cut of that money, and he could brag about the good deal he brokered. Data protection bills and proposals tend to let internet companies keep collecting as much user data as they already are, provided they let the government (and users who request it) know what they’ve got.

Whatever happens, other court challenges to Trump’s TikTok order are pending, including one from ByteDance asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to overturn the Committee on Foreign Investment’s ruling that ByteDance must divest TikTok.

ByteDance is reportedly also still in negotiations with U.S. buyers. More from the Journal:

As the legal underpinnings of the Trump administration’s effort appear to be weakening, there were signs that the parties also were still far apart on the terms of the deal. Still, people familiar with ByteDance’s thinking said the company was hopeful about reaching an agreement that would allow TikTok to remain in the U.S.

Mr. Trump issued an order in August stating that TikTok would be banned in the U.S., but later told reporters that he might approve a divestiture to a U.S. company.

Under a preliminary proposal that Mr. Trump approved in concept in September, Oracle Corp. and Walmart Inc. would take a combined 20% in TikTok Global, a new U.S.-based company that would run the global service. But among the major sticking points in the continuing negotiations was the size of the stake that ByteDance would get to keep in TikTok, according to people familiar with the matter.

People familiar with ByteDance have said the company is working to take measures to safeguard the data of its American users, but noted that they don’t believe the U.S. government has authority to dictate the corporate structure of a Chinese company.

The Washington Post points out that “if the Trump administration and TikTok don’t work out a deal soon, that could put the ball in Biden’s court once he’s in office. He could reverse the order that imposed the ban and find another way to address the app’s security concerns—or choose to defend the government’s ban in court as the legal process continues.” More:

Biden has said little about what he would do to rein in the app should the company fail to reach a deal with Trump.

While Biden has largely criticized Trump’s China policy as ineffective when it comes to trade, he has expressed his own concerns with TikTok and said he would review security concerns with the app. “I think that it’s a matter of genuine concern that TikTok, a Chinese operation, has access to over 100 million young people particularly in the United States of America,” Biden said during a campaign stop in September.

A Biden representative said the team had nothing to share at this time regarding its plans for TikTok. TikTok declined to comment on if the company had spoken with the Biden team about the ban.


• The Department of Homeland Security said yesterday that the 2020 election was “the most secure in American history….There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

• “Part of the surprise at the Miami vote may have come from the somewhat contrived ‘Latino,’ a term that often obscures as much as it clarifies,” writes Antonio Garcia-Martinez.

• Chicago is asking residents to stay home again.

• “Political science research suggests that not too much should be read into poll responses that question the legitimacy of election victories,” Daniel W. Drezner reminds us.

• An update on the president’s voter fraud lawsuits:

• Heads up:

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About The Author

Elizabeth Nolan Brown

Founded in 1968, Reason is the magazine of free minds and free markets. We produce hard-hitting independent journalism on civil liberties, politics, technology, culture, policy, and commerce. Reason exists outside of the left/right echo chamber. Our goal is to deliver fresh, unbiased information and insights to our readers, viewers, and listeners every day. Visit

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