Nov 12, 2020 - Technology

Trump administration goes dark on TikTok as midnight deadline looms

Animated illustration of text-in-progress ellipsis made up of periods stylized like the TikTok logo.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The Trump administration's existential threat to TikTok is again going down to the wire, as today is the deadline for when its Chinese parent company ByteDance must unwind a 2018 merger that helped create the app.

The big picture: There's no precedent for what might be coming after the stroke of midnight, and so far Treasury is turtling.

  • The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) has previously required that past mergers be unwound (e.g., Grindr), but never before has such an order not been met in time.
  • TikTok would, at least theoretically, be in violation of the law if it continues to operate, unless CFIUS grants it a 30-day extension (which it hasn't) or a judge grants it an emergency injunction (which TikTok sued for on Tuesday).
  • The original CFIUS ruling says that the U.S. Justice Department "is authorized to take any steps necessary."

"Wait a minute," says rhetorical reader. "I thought they had a deal with Oracle and Walmart that President Trump approved?"

  • Yes, but Trump only approved it in concept. The devil was in the details, particularly as it relates to data privacy and security, and those details remain bedeviled.

What TikTok is saying: "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."

What Treasury is saying: Nothing. Not only to reporters like me, but sources suggest that it also went dark on TikTok/ByteDance as the election neared.

The bottom line: TikTok is two-for-two in requesting court injunctions, but both of those cases related to sloppily-written executive orders. Overcoming CFIUS, which is designed to protect national security, could be a higher bar. In the meantime, over 1,500 U.S. workers and an estimated 100 million U.S. users hang in the balance.

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