On Friday, Reuters reported the U.S. Commerce Department is poised to issue an order that'll stop those in the U.S. from downloading short-form video app TikTok from Sunday, September 19. The ruling comes as Oracle and Walmart have been attempting to buy the company's U.S. operations to avoid a ban imposed by the Trump administration over security concerns surrounding the Chinese-owned app.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that's been trying hard to appease U.S. officials through moves like appointing a (now departed) former Disney executive, American Kevin Mayer, as CEO, and efforts to bow to pressure to sell off portions of its operations to U.S.-based companies which could then manage and guarantee the security of data the company holds on U.S. users. There's even been talk of Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom taking the helm at the new U.S.-flavored version of TikTok.
Oracle is vying to take over — The most promising bid to save TikTok has come from Oracle (with the support of, strangely, retailer Walmart), but even that attempt has failed to secure the blessing of Trump's administration, which earlier this week poked holes in the software giant's proposed acquisition deal. Unless the Oracle bid is finalized by Sunday, the U.S. versions of Apple's App Store and Google Play will no longer be allowed to offer downloads of the hugely popular app. Existing users of the app will, however, still be able to use it until November 12. If by that time a deal hasn't been reached, they'll likely be cut off.
The move won't stop Apple or Google from offering TikTok in other markets, but they will be barred from letting users in the U.S. install the apps by other means (though how that will work is unclear). TikTok has also attempted suing the administration over what it argues is are pernicious and baseless allegations about it, but that's done nothing to delay Trump's efforts to see the service barred.
Trump issued two executive orders on August 6 that paved the road to the ban. They gave a 45-day deadline for apps listed as posing a threat to national security to be blocked. That deadline expires on Monday, September 20, but will mean bans need to be enacted by the end of Sunday, September 19. However, Reuters reports the Commerce Department "will not bar additional technical transactions" until November 12, giving ByteDance some extra time to try and finalize a deal.
From the strange to the bizarre — Trump's fascination with an app primarily used by teenagers to film themselves doing choreographed dance moves to pop songs is a peculiar one, even by the President's standards. Some pundits have suggested his disdain for the app stems from the embarrassment it caused him when users of the service banded together to apply for tickets to a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in June 2020 they had no plans of attending, resulting in the venue looking half empty. If threatening to ban TikTok only to seem magnanimous by reneging at the 11th hour is part of Trump's strategy to win young voters' support we'd be surprised. Impressed, but surprised nonetheless.
Whatever the reason, for the U.S. to demand a company sell-off part of its business to a foreign company in order to keep operating is bizarre. Even stranger was Trump's suggestion when Microsoft was still one of TikTok's suitors that the U.S. government should see a cut of any profits following any acquisition for having brokered the deal. Which isn't, err, how government and the private sector are meant to work.
And then there's Kanye West, who suggested the solution wasn't to buy TikTok, but instead to create a new version of the service bereft of bare teenage midriffs and other lascivious and temptation-laden content called — we kid you not — Jesus Tok.