With all eyes on President Trump’s long-shot election fight, there’s been little room at the administration for anything else — including the Nov. 12 deadline set by presidential executive orders mandating TikTok owner ByteDance divest from the app.
Now the developer is pleading with the courts to vacate the order, according to reports that broke late Tuesday night describing a new federal appeals filing.
A TikTok spokeswoman confirmed the filing to WWD in a statement explaining that, after the company has jumped through hoops to appease the administration’s national security concerns, it has been all but ignored.
“For a year, TikTok has actively engaged with CFIUS [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] in good faith to address its national security concerns, even as we disagree with its assessment,” the statement read. Trump officials have repeatedly pointed to TikTok’s Chinese ownership as a basis for its concerns.
According to the company, it has faced a constant stream of requests and “no clarity on whether our proposed solutions would be accepted,” leading it to ask for a 30-day extension, as permitted in the Aug. 14 order.
The proposed solutions included large investments from American technology companies, with a deal from Oracle and Walmart Inc. emerging as the top contender. Complications ensued casting doubt on whether majority ownership would remain in China or shift to the U.S., even with this deal. But either way, TikTok intended to work with Oracle as a technology partner to ease any security concerns.
“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 continued.
“Today, with the Nov. 12 CFIUS deadline imminent and without an extension in hand, we have no choice but to file a petition in court to defend our rights and those of our more than 1,500 employees in the U.S.”
A spate of controversial election fights seem to have taken up most of the oxygen in Trump world, which blasted out a multitude of long-shot lawsuits to attempt to tilt electoral votes in the incumbent’s favor. Ironically, the drama over TikTok, which was supposedly sparked by worries over national security, may come to a head during an administration shake-up condemned for compromising the nation’s security during a critical period.
Trump officials have reportedly fired or pushed out a number of Pentagon officials, including Defense Secretary Mark Esper. The move, taking place during Trump’s lame-duck period, sparked alarm and criticism by the security community.
Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said, “It is hard to overstate just how dangerous high-level turnover at the Department of Defense is during a period of presidential transition.”
Meanwhile, President-elect Joe Biden has been quietly working behind the scenes to assemble transition agency review groups. The teams have enlisted numerous members from the tech sector, including current and former employees from Amazon, Dell, LinkedIn, Salesforce and other tech giants. Other notable participants include people from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the philanthropic organization founded by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
It’s hard to know what to make of their participation, considering how famously tech-oriented Biden’s former boss was. President Barack Obama installed the country’s first chief technology officer and regularly sought counsel from giants based in places like San Jose, Calif., and Seattle.
But it’s a different era now, steeped in growing worries about Silicon Valley’s outsized power.
Notably, Biden’s transition teams include some of tech’s biggest critics, including members that have called for the breakup of Big Tech or the establishment of an oversight agency for digital platforms.
How such an agency might approach a business like TikTok won’t be clear until next year. The developer apparently hopes to hang on long enough to at least find out.