Future Tense

Trump Seems to Have Forgotten About His TikTok Ban

The TikTok logo, on a black surface with the words TikTok in white and a music note next to it, outside of a California office.
“Guys? Anyone?” Mario Tama/Getty Images

Remember when the Trump administration moved to ban TikTok, calling it a “national emergency”? The White House seems to have forgotten about it, and TikTok would like an update, please.

All the way back in September, President Donald Trump issued two executive orders that essentially banned the app—as well as another, WeChat—in the U.S. The president’s reasoning was that the apps, owned by China-based companies ByteDance (TikTok) and Tencent (WeChat), are a national security threat. The first order prevented app-store downloads of TikTok and WeChat after Sept. 20, and the second banned U.S. companies from making business deals with ByteDance after Nov. 12.

Although the two orders were blocked in court, the administration’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States set another Nov. 12 deadline for TikTok to divest itself of any assets related to TikTok’s operation in the U.S. But TikTok hasn’t gotten word from the administration in months about the order, which also doesn’t specify what were to happen if ByteDance doesn’t divest assets. So on Tuesday, TikTok filed a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit asking for a deadline extension.

“For a year, TikTok has actively engaged with CFIUS in good faith to address its national security concerns, even as we disagree with its assessment,” TikTok said in a statement. “In the nearly two months since the President gave his preliminary approval to our proposal to satisfy those concerns, we have offered detailed solutions to finalize that agreement—but have received no substantive feedback on our extensive data privacy and security framework.”

TikTok has denied claims that it shares user data with the Chinese government and has provided transparency on its content moderation practices and privacy policies. Nevertheless, ByteDance agreed to sell part of a new U.S. company called TikTok Global to Oracle, which was co-founded by Trump supporter Larry Ellison, and Walmart. Trump approved the deal in September, but there were disagreements over its terms, with ByteDance claiming it would still own 80 percent of the new company. The Chinese government hadn’t signed off on it, either. So that deal, like the ban, appears to be in limbo.

Trump, in the middle of attempting a coup, seems to no longer see TikTok as a priority. It’s unclear what will happen with the apps once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, with his technology adviser telling CNBC it’s “too early to say.” TikTok, which has 100 million active users in the U.S., is highly popular among Gen Z, and WeChat’s 19 million U.S. users often rely on it to communicate with China-based family.

Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society.