SAN FRANCISCO – A judge in the United States issued an order this Sunday that prevents the Government of Donald Trump from prohibiting downloads and updates from the Chinese social network TikTok, something that could have happened this midnight, at least until Justice pronounces again.
The magistrate Carl J. Nichols of the federal court of the District of Columbia thus agreed to the request of the lawyers of the Chinese firm, who sought a temporary blockage of the possible prohibition while the two parties face each other in court.
Nichols’ decision definitively transfers to Justice a dispute that started in August, when Trump issued an executive order that threatened to ban TikTok in the United States (USA) if the owner firm, the Chinese ByteDance, did not sell its business in the country to US companies.
According to the president of the United States, the fact that it is an application owned by a Chinese company poses a national security threat due to the existing links in China between the private sector and the Government of the Chinese Communist Party.
After weeks of negotiations, ByteDance reached an agreement in principle with the North American companies Oracle and Walmart, which received preliminary approval from the White House, but in recent days the talks were not bearing fruit and there was a real possibility that Trump carried out his threat to ban downloads of the app when it ended on Sunday.
A few hours before the ruling, on Sunday morning, Nichols held a hearing in which he heard the arguments of the Government, which stated that TikTok is a threat because it collects data on its users and, being a Chinese company, then it must collaborate obligatorily with the intelligence services of that country.
For their part, TikTok’s lawyers denied that the company shares data with Chinese authorities, arguing that Trump’s goal is actually to restrict freedom of expression.
“This case is about freedom of expression and freedom of communication. It is something inherent in the business that has been targeted. TikTok is an application, but it is much more. It is a modern version of communication in the electronic age that has gained popularity especially in the pandemic, ”said one of the company’s lawyers, Alexander Berengaut.
If the judge had not agreed with ByteDance and the White House had decided to go ahead with its threat, Google and Apple, which control the two main virtual mobile stores, would have been forced to withdraw TikTok from them in the United States , in compliance with the presidential order.
Despite the fact that just two weeks ago, the agreement between ByteDance on the one hand and Oracle and Walmart on the other seemed on track, in recent days the two parties have offered contradictory versions about whether ByteDance would continue to be a main part of the shareholders of the new company which is created to run the TikTok business in the US.
According to the version of Oracle and Walmart -which will control 20% of the future firm-, most of the new company will be US-owned, but according to ByteDance, they will control the remaining 80% until its IPO takes place with an initial public offering in about a year.
The version of the deal offered by ByteDance, therefore, would not satisfy the conditions of Trump’s executive order.
That order also establishes that on November 12 the Commerce Department would completely veto the use of the application in the country, something that could still happen, since the judge has not prevented it for the moment.
TikTok, which has 100 million users in the US and 700 million worldwide, is one of the social networks that has grown the most in recent years, and has become the main entertainment for many teenagers and a channel marketing for major celebrities.