TikTok confirmed that it plans to challenge President Donald Trump’s executive order, which will effectively ban that uber-popular short-video app unless it sells its U.S. operations. This is the first time that the company will pursue legal action, setting up a high-profile showdown with the U.S. government.
Rumors that the company would be filing a lawsuit had been around for several weeks before Saturday’s announcement. In the lawsuit, TikTok claimed that the Trump administration failed to follow due process when it issued an executive order barring TikTok from doing business in the country if it does not divest its business in the United States. The executive order, issued on Aug. 6, initially gave TikTok’s parent company ByteDance 45 days to find a buyer. A subsequent order extended it to 90 days.
“For nearly a year we have sought to engage in good faith to provide a constructive solution,” a spokesperson for TikTok told the Wall Street Journal. “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 White House referred questions about TikTok’s plan to sue the U.S. government to the Justice Department, which declined to comment.
Trump’s executive order will prohibit companies in the U.S. from doing business with TikTok, saying that the app is a threat because of its Chinese ownership. The fact that it’s owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, says the White House, threatens “the national security, foreign policy, and economy” of the U.S. and requires swift action “to protect [the country’s] national security.” The executive order also bans transactions over WeChat—a popular texting app in China—over similar concerns.
TikTok’s move to take the U.S. government to court is the latest in its calamitous relationship with the White House. While the company maintains that it has never handed U.S. user data to Chinese authorities, the Trump administration has been to go after what it calls “untrusted” Chinese apps from U.S. digital networks. In July, Congress voted to ban federal employees from downloading the app on government-issued phones, citing national security concerns.
From its humble beginnings as Musical.ly in 2014, ByteDance has grown TikTok to be a global powerhouse. The U.S. alone has over 100 million monthly users, adding to its 800-million strong active users worldwide. The app has been downloaded more than 2 billion times.
TikTok has also landed in many governments’ crosshairs. The app was first banned in India in 2019 after claims that it was used to spread pornography appeared. The decision was overturned on appeal. In June, the government banned TikTok and other Chinse apps over complaints that the apps illegally obtained user data. The U.K. and Australia are also probing the app, but have not yet revealed what they’re looking for. In the U.S., Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directly accused TikTok of “feeding data directly to the Chinese Communist Party.”
Despite the challenge to the executive order, talks between ByteDance and potential buyers like Microsoft and Oracle are expected to continue. The company is also working to ensure its employees are paid, even if the ban pushes through.