TikTok ‘to sue Trump administration’ in effort to stop president’s ban

TikTok, the popular social media platform owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, will reportedly file a lawsuit against the Trump administration after the president signed an executive order effectively banning the app in the US in 45 days.

The lawsuit, first reported by NPR, could be filed against the White House as early as Tuesday in the US District Court for the Southern District of California.

It follows an executive order Mr Trump signed on Thursday outlawing “any transaction” between a US citizen and ByteDance — a crushing blow to TikTok, which has quickly become of the most popular platforms for Generation Z in the US.

According to NPR, the lawsuit would claim that Mr Trump’s executive order was unconstitutional and baseless, with one source telling the news outlet that the president’s ruling was “based on pure speculation and conjecture” with “no findings of fact”.

The president has railed against TikTok in recent months, claiming the app was collecting user data on millions of Americans and sending it back to the Chinese government, while its parent company says all US user data has been stored on servers in the US and does not leave the country.

Mr Trump’s attacks on TikTok come at a time when the White House has ramped up its criticism of China, blaming it for the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, with the president employing xenophobic terminology in comments against Beijing.

TikTok, like most other social networks, collects data about its users and moderates what’s posted. It grabs people’s locations and messages they send one another, for example, and tracks what people watch in order to know what kinds of videos they like and how best to target ads to them. US-based platforms do much the same thing, so deleting TikTok but leaving Snapchat, for instance, might not change things much.

But the administration and some scholars worry that China can force its companies to help the government gather intelligence.

In the case of TikTok, this remains a hypothetical threat, said Samm Sacks, a researcher at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center — but she acknowledges that it could be happening.

TikTok says US user data isn’t stored in China and that it wouldn’t hand it over. But experts believe said that if the Chinese government wants information, it will get it. The US government has also cracked down on Chinese telecom companies Huawei and ZTE because of this worry. The companies deny that they facilitate spying.

There are also concerns about TikTok censoring videos critical of China, which TikTok denies, and pushing propaganda. Advocates in the US also say the company is violating children’s privacy laws.

WeChat, meanwhile, is censored within China. The Citizen Lab internet watchdog group in Toronto says WeChat monitors files and images shared abroad to aid its censorship in China.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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