The New York Times reports on the latest developments in the saga over TikTok. Following President Trump’s decision to ban the app, which is owned by China’s ByteDance, if a deal could not be reached for its acquisition by an American company late last year, the situation is in limbo:
In September, ByteDance announced that it had reached a deal it hoped would satisfy the U.S. government. The software giant Oracle and Walmart would take their own stakes in TikTok, Oracle would manage the data that flows over the app, and leaders at the service would be American citizens.
Mr. Trump said on Sept. 19 that he approved of the deal. But then he backtracked, expressing concerns that it would not put enough of the app’s ownership in American hands. The talks to complete the deal have continued ever since.
TikTok received multiple extensions from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a group of federal officials who vet deals involving international companies. The Trump administration decided it would not extend the deadline beyond Dec. 4 but has declined to act on the time limit. Under Mr. Trump’s executive order, the Justice Department has the authority to enforce his demands.
Federal judges have also put the administration’s ban on hold, eliminating some of its leverage over the app. The government has appealed the rulings.
The newly-extended deadline, the Times notes, is February 18. The fight over TikTok’s future will likely spill over into the start of the Biden presidency, as the government extended a deadline to let the ban order play out in court. President-elect Biden could well decide to drop the executive orders targeting that app in addition to WeChat, the popular Chinese messaging app that security experts warn is a conduit for Chinese Communist Party disinformation and global surveillance. He could also stay the course.
It’s a fitting end to the Trump-era portion of this saga. Trump set a remarkably coherent direction on the pressing national-security concern of CCP-linked tech, then preceded to undermine his administration’s case through mercantilist bluster and spotty enforcement. Commenting on the potential sale of TikTok to Microsoft in August, he said, “A very substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the treasury of the United States. The United States should be reimbursed or paid because without the United States they don’t have anything.”
Then the president flirted with a flawed deal. As I wrote at the time, the Oracle-Walmart deal reviewed by the Trump team would not have done enough to ensure the security of U.S.-based users because ByteDance would still remain involved in an independent TikTok’s algorithm. But Trump liked TikTok’s promise to create over 20,000 American jobs. Under pressure from those who stuck to their guns on the national-security aspect, though, he later rescinded his blessing of the deal.
If this remains mired in the courts over the next several months, it will mean the government’s lawyers are having a heck of a time convincing the court that banning TikTok is a pressing national-security concern rather than a mercantilist pet project of the president’s.