Judge blocks U.S. from banning TikTok downloads

Photo credit: Solen Feyissa - Wikimedia Commons

The 12th-hour ruling provides more time to approve a sale

A federal judge issued a stay Sunday, stopping the Trump administration’s threat to block downloads of the popular app TikTok in the U.S.

The ruling gives the app’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, more time to work out acceptable terms to transfer control in the U.S. to Oracle and Walmart. U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols issued the temporary stay and asked both the government and the company to propose a timetable for submitting more extensive arguments defending their positions.

TikTok, a video-sharing app wildly popular with American teenagers, has been in the crosshairs of privacy advocates and administration officials since last year. In December, ByteDance was the defendant in a class-action lawsuit claiming it transfers TikTok users’ data to China.

“TikTok clandestinely has vacuumed up and transferred to servers in China vast quantities of private and personally identifiable user data that can be employed to identify, profile and track the location and activities of users in the United States now and in the future,” the suit alleged.

Ban on downloads

In August, President Trump signed an executive order giving ByteDance 45 days to sell TikTok’s U.S. operations or face a ban on downloads. The ban would have taken effect Sunday.

The app has gotten caught up in escalating trade tension between the U.S. and China, with Trump publicly speculating that the Chinese government could be collecting information on American citizens. 

The president’s order said the app “automatically gathers vast swaths of information from its users,” including internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search history.

Trump has said he is satisfied with a proposed deal in which Oracle and Walmart would take a 20 percent stake in a new company that would control TikTok’s U.S. operations. The Chinese government has not opposed the deal but said it needs more time to review it. 

In asking for a stay against the ban, ByteDance said “there is simply no genuine emergency” that would require an immediate enforcement of the ban.

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