From elaborate dance moves to lip-synced skits, TikTok has taken the U.S. by storm, drawing in millions of users each month. But the hit video-sharing app ran afoul of the Trump administration, which accused the Chinese-owned social media company of being a national security risk.
Now President Trump has moved to ban the app from the U.S. entirely. Here’s everything you need to know about the ongoing feud between the Trump White House and TikTok.
Why is TikTok getting banned?
The Trump administration began publicly discussing a ban on TikTok in July, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that there were security concerns with the app — in particular that data about users could be handed over to the Chinese government by parent company, ByteDance.
Soon the Trump campaign launched Facebook ads calling for support of a ban of the app, with ads reportedly saying that “TikTok is spying on you.”
TikTok has repeatedly claimed that it doesn’t store U.S. data in China and wouldn’t turn it over to the Chinese government. Though security experts say TikTok is a privacy risk for users, some who spoke to Digital Trends said the app’s policies are no better or worse than those at its largest U.S.-run competitors like Facebook.
TikTok hit back, first threatening legal action and then going ahead with a legal challenge to the ban. The company said that the ban would “strip the rights” of employees and creators on TikTok, “without any evidence to justify such an extreme action.”
In this turbulent period, TikTok U.S. CEO Kevin Mayer stepped down from his position, leaving the senior leadership in a state of flux.
What has been China’s response?
The Chinese government also got involved in this issue, amending its technology export laws to include algorithms that recommended personalized content based on data — which is precisely what TikTok offers through its “For You” page.
Now, any purchase of the algorithm would require the approval of the Chinese government.
The recommendation algorithm is considered by many to be TikTok’s “secret sauce” which makes the app so popular, so preventing it from being sold to a U.S. company could seriously hamper the U.S. company’s ability to run the app and attract users.
Further still, the Chinese government would reportedly rather see the app shut down than allow Trump to force a sale.
Will TikTok be sold?
On September 14, Oracle reached a deal to purchase the U.S. operations of TikTok.
However, the details of the sale to Oracle didn’t seem to satisfy the Trump administration, with the Department of Commerce announcing that the app would be banned from app stores like the Apple App Store and the Google Play Stores from September 20. But Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said a full ban will not go into effect until Nov. 12, meaning there was still time for a sale to be approved.
At the last minute before the app store ban was supposed to come into effect, Trump said he had approved the deal between Oracle and TikTik “in concept.”
The Department of Commerce then said it would delay the removal of the app from app stores until September 27. If the deal between Oracle and TikTok goes through, the app could be allowed to stay. If no agreement is reached by this date, the app may be removed from app stores.
Can I still download TikTok?
If you are based in the U.S., you will not be able to download the app after Sunday, September 27, 2020.
Before that date, you can still download the app through either the Apple App Store for iOS users or the Google Play Store for Android users.
If you don’t currently have the app installed on your device and you think you might want to use it in the future, you should download it now before than ban comes into effect.
Is TikTok going to stop working?
For now, you can continue to use the TikTok app as usual as long as you have already downloaded it. But you won’t be able to receive future updates for the app through the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store. This means you may miss out on new features of the app as they are rolled out, and you could be potentially vulnerable to security issues.
The Department of Commerce has indicated that a full ban of the app could still be on the cards. There’s a deadline of November 12 for TikTok to be sold to a U.S. company, and if there isn’t a deal in place by then, the app could be shut down entirely in the U.S., preventing anyone in the U.S. from using it.
TikTok will continue to function normally for users outside of the U.S.
There are also further ramifications of the ban to consider, in terms of internet freedom and censorship and the precedent set by Trump’s direct involvement in this case.
Updated September 20: Added information about Trump’s potential approval of the Oracle deal and the delay to the app store ban.