So what's the latest on the TikTok takeover situation?
I'm glad you asked - this week, as negotiations continue over the sale of TikTok to an Oracle/Walmart lead consortium, which it's worth noting has not been officially agreed to as yet. While those discussions continue, TikTok continued to combat the US Government's Executive Order, which could still see the app banned entirely in the US if a deal isn't reached by November 12th.
- The White House issued an EO on August 6th which would see TikTok banned in the US within 45 days if it did not separate itself from its Chinese roots
- On September 19th, a day before the ban would take effect, TikTok announced significant progress in a takeover deal. The US Department of Commerce then granted TikTok an extension, giving it till September 27th to finalize the details of the takeover, or it would face removal from the US app store.
- On September 27th, just hours before TikTok's app store ban was set to take effect, the company won an appeal against the White House EO, avoid a ban.
- The court has now set a November 4th hearing date for a follow-up on the TikTok ban in the US app store - while TikTok has till November 12th to finalize details of its full sell-off to a US-based company, or it'll face a complete ban in the US.
So, TikTok could still be removed from the US app store within weeks, and could still face a full ban in the US. Which is what the platform is now arguing against.
TikTok's counter to the White House EO is that, essentially, it's based on incorrect information and assumptions, and that none of the actual claims listed are true.
In a supplemental declaration, TikTok's chief security officer Roland Cloutier says that:
- TikTok's infrastructure is 'entirely separate from the software stack comprising the Douyin application', so TikTok and it's Chinese variation are not linked.
- TikTok does not lease servers from China Unicom, a potential vulnerability identified by the US, and US user data is encrypted, so it couldn't be accessed via this method anyway
- A report which claimed that TikTok's source code shows that it could be sharing data with China is based on outdated code references, which are no longer used in the application
- Importantly, Cloutier also notes that TikTok "would not comply with a request for US user data from the Chinese Government. "To date, there has never been a request from the Chinese Government for tikTok user data".
Cloutier's statements reinforce what many have previously noted, that the White House EO is based on assumptions and media reports, but not on hard evidence. Even if TikTok does share data with the CCP, there's no actual evidence of such, and if it does use its platform to reinforce communist propaganda, there's no definitive proof that this is occurring.
There are various reports of concerns with TikTok's moderation guidelines, rumors of anti-China censorship, concerns around how its algorithm operates. But in a legal sense, there's nothing binding - there's no evidence, at least nothing available to the public, which would add weight to the claims made in the White House EO.
Which is why TikTok hasn't been removed from US app stores yet, and why it may never be removed, even if the Trump Administration wins re-election, and seeks to push harder on getting the app into US hands.
Which could still happen, but more and more reports around the proposed Oracle/Walmart deal suggest that TikTok's Chinese parent company ByteDance will retain control of the app, which the US Government has said will not be good enough.
But if ByteDance also knows that it will win any legal appeal, maybe it won't be pushing as hard to sell - maybe, by appealing the case, and seeking a longer stay of execution, the company is hoping to hold on till after the US election, when the situation could look significantly different for the app.
And increasingly, it's looking like the TikTok EO was more of a move to punish China, which US President Donald Trump has straight-up acknowledged.
In July, President Trump noted that he wanted to remove TikTok in the US as part of retaliatory measures for the spread of COVID-19.
"It’s a big business. Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful.”
At that time, India had announced its ban of TikTok, and all Chinese apps, due to ongoing conflicts with the Chinese military, while just weeks before this statement, TikTok users had reportedly ruined a Trump rally in Oklahoma by massively inflating ticket demand, which left Trump's team embarrassed at the small turnout.
It's possible that these elements may have also played into Trump's push to ban the app, but as we're now seeing, that drive may well lack the evidence to actually get through, and TikTok, after everything, may remain entirely unchanged.
So what's the end result? We'll have to wait and see if TikTok does get sold off, but even if it doesn't, the impact could be zero. Despite all the media coverage, the court cases, despite all the focus on the app over the past few months, TikTok could still be in US app stores in late December, owned by China's ByteDance, growing its user base.
It seems surprising, given all the negotiations and executive changes and speculation. But TikTok, as it has said, may well be here to stay, as it always was.