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US judge pauses Donald Trump’s TikTok ban as Oracle plan continues to be scrutinised

By | Published on Monday 28 September 2020


A US judge yesterday issued a temporary injunction putting Donald Trump’s big TikTok ban on hold while the app’s owner, China-based Bytedance, both fights the ban in the American courts while also trying to placate Trump et al with its big Oracle alliance.

Trump, of course, issued an executive order last month banning Americans from transacting with TikTok and Bytedance. That order was meant to come into effect earlier this month, but Trump’s commerce department voluntarily postponed the ban until yesterday.

Officially the ban is related to concerns that the Chinese government has access to the global TikTok audience and user-data. For its part, TikTok denies those allegations, says Trump really instigated the ban to seem tough on China in the run-up to the US Presidential election, and that in doing so he acted illegally and unconstitutionally.

Using all those arguments, TikTok and Bytedance are trying to get the executive order permanently overturned through the courts.

However, at the same time, TikTok has been trying to get Trump’s government to voluntarily call off the ban by restructuring its global business to further prove Chinese officials don’t have sneaky access to its servers. The current plan in that regard is to set up a standalone TikTik Global company, 20% owned by US firms like Oracle and Walmart, which will soon IPO on a US stock exchange.

Oracle, meanwhile, will become a technology partner of the app and seek to reassure politicians in Washington – and other countries – that TikTok user data really is kept in a safe place and that the app complies with each country’s data protection laws.

Although Trump initially said that plan had his blessing, some confusion remains over just how much control Bytedance and Oracle will respectively have over the new TikTok Global business.

If Bytedance is really still in control, Trump has said he will block the deal and go ahead with the ban. But if Bytedance gives up too much control, politicians back in China might likewise seek to scupper the Oracle alliance.

With all that uncertainty still remaining, last week lawyers for Bytedance went to court in the US seeking a temporary injunction to pause Trump’s ban.

Without such an injunction – or another postponement from the US Commerce Department – the Apple and Google app stores would have been forced to stop listing TikTok within the US as of yesterday. The app would have still worked on any devices it was already installed on, but subsequent updates to that app would not have been available.

TikTok had some very recent precedent in its favour when asking for that injunction. Last week another of Trump’s executive orders banning the use of a China-owned app – that being Tencent’s WeChat – was also paused, that time at the request of a group of the app’s users.

Just in time, yesterday evening, a judge in the US District Court for the District Of Columbia, Carl Nichols, handed TikTok its injunction, pausing the ban. His judgement was sealed, meaning we don’t know the specific reason why he decided a temporary injunction was justified.

However, a spokesperson for TikTok said: “We’re pleased that the court agreed with our legal arguments and issued an injunction preventing the implementation of the TikTok app ban. We will continue defending our rights for the benefit of our community and employees. At the same time, we will also maintain our ongoing dialogue with the government to turn our proposal, which the President gave his preliminary approval to last weekend, into an agreement”.

So, there you go. The battle against Trump in relation to his TikTok ban will continue in the courts, while the schmoozing of Trump in relation to the Oracle deal will continue in political circles. Meanwhile, for the time being, Americans can continue to TikTok some TikToks on TikTok.