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The TikTok vs. Trump battle continues with a lawsuit

It’s the latest escalation in the battle between the Chinese-owned social media app and the US government.

In this photo illustration, a TikTok logo is displayed on a smartphone with an American flag in the background.
TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is suing the Trump administration over its efforts to ban the app in the US.
Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Shirin Ghaffary is a senior Vox correspondent covering the social media industry. Previously, Ghaffary worked at BuzzFeed News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and TechCrunch.

TikTok filed a lawsuit against the US government Monday, fighting back against President Trump’s efforts to ban the video-sharing app over alleged national security concerns.

The suit disputes Trump’s assertion that TikTok’s ownership by the Chinese company ByteDance means the Chinese government could use it to surveil Americans. TikTok is accusing the Trump administration of denying the company due process under the Fifth Amendment when Trump signed an executive order earlier this month to make it illegal for the company to make transactions in the US.

“We do not take suing the government lightly, however we feel we have no choice but to take action to protect our rights, and the rights of our community and employees,” TikTok said in a company blog post announcing the suit. “But with the Executive Order threatening to bring a ban on our US operations — eliminating the creation of 10,000 American jobs and irreparably harming the millions of Americans who turn to this app for entertainment, connection, and legitimate livelihoods that are vital especially during the pandemic — we simply have no choice.”

Trump issued an executive order on August 6 banning any US company or individual from making transactions with ByteDance within 45 days. The next week, he issued another executive order giving the company 90 days to divest from the US and get rid of any US data.

There’s no publicly available evidence of the app being used for espionage purposes to date, so it’s hard to assess the credibility of claims from Trump and several other politicians — including some Democrats — that the Chinese government could snoop on American TikTok users.

TikTok argues in the suit that it has taken “extraordinary measures to protect the privacy and security of TikTok’s US user data.” It says it stored US user data outside of China, in the US and Singapore, and that it has “erect[ed] software barriers” between Chinese and US data underpinning the app.

The company says it told the US government about its data security measures during a recent US national security review of ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of a China-based company,, a lipsyncing video-sharing app that ByteDance merged into TikTok. The company says in the suit that its actions were “more than sufficient to address any conceivable US government privacy or national security concerns.”

TikTok’s suit says Trump misused his executive powers when he deemed TikTok “an unusual and extraordinary threat” under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA).

“[T]he Administration failed to follow due process and act in good faith, neither providing evidence that TikTok was an actual threat, nor justification for its punitive actions,” the company said in Monday’s blog post.

If TikTok sells to a US company within the time frame allotted in Trump’s executive order, it could effectively avoid a potential app shutdown. Several major tech companies have signaled interest in buying the company, with Microsoft seen as the frontrunner in negotiations and, more recently, Oracle as well.

It’s unclear how or if this lawsuit could affect those discussions.

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