TikTok is about to outlast President Trump. Now, the company could become an early test of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s stance. for Chinese technology companies.
Last year, Mr. Trump asked TikTok’s Chinese owner, ByteDance, to sell the viral video app. He said TikTok raised urgent concerns about national security, citing the Chinese government’s ability to access users’ data. The dispute has interrupted the stratosphere proliferation of the application.
ByteDance and the Trump administration are still talking, people familiar with the matter said. But it seems increasingly likely that the fate of the application will not be decided by Mr. Trump, who announced his claims ostentatiously over the summer, withdrew from the deal he made. approved a month later and then shifted his attention elsewhere.
Instead, the future of TikTok will fall into the hands of Mr. Biden, who talks less about the company or more broadly, bipartisan concerns about the growing influence of Chinese tech firms.
On Tuesday, the US government agreed to an extension in a court fight over restrictions on TikTok targeting. The new deadline is February 18 – almost a month after Mr. Biden took office.
“My important thing is that they hope to get this resolved, and hopefully this lies in the back and they can get the skirt under the radar,” said Samm Sacks, a fellow think tank New America member. about ByteDance’s approach to the end of the Trump administration.
Mr. Biden has said that the US must be tougher towards Beijing, calling China’s president, Xi Jinping, a “ruffian”. But he gave some details on how that approach would play out. He just said he would try to have a more consistent policy toward the country – as opposed to Mr Trump’s patchy aggression – while pressuring it on issues like property theft. American wisdom.
A spokesman for Mr. Biden’s transition group declined to comment on the president-elect’s plans. TikTok declined to comment.
A finance ministry spokesperson said in a statement that the risks associated with the application “have not changed and the divestment request remains in effect.”
The government worked with ByteDance and others to address the concerns, the spokesperson said, adding, “That work continues and the attorney general is authorized to take any steps needed. required to execute the command. “
TikTok is not the only company to have a stake in Mr. Biden’s approach to Chinese tech giants, which increasingly try to reach customers around the world. The Trump administration has spent years pressing US carriers and their allies overseas to remove Chinese telecommunications equipment from 5G wireless networks. It tries to keep critical equipment away from the Chinese semiconductor manufacturers. They then turned their attention to consumer apps, trying to ban TikTok and WeChat and forced the sale of dating app Grindr.
This month, Mr. Trump banned Alipay, owned by an affiliate of Chinese giant Alibaba, and a collection of other apps. The ban was not in effect for 45 days, meaning their design and installation would belong to the Biden administration.
TikTok gained popularity last year, especially among young users who record lip syncing videos, comedy clips, and snippets on other videos. TikTok says that national security concerns are unfounded, noting that its data is stored in the United States, with a backup in Singapore.
Mr. Trump’s efforts to exploit services from its Chinese parent company began this summer when he issued two executive orders targeting the app. One person banned US companies from working with this app and effectively banned it. The second order requires ByteDance to sell the app. The approach has given government leverage: If a company conducts a sale, the government will ignore other restrictions.
In September, ByteDance announced that it had reached an agreement they hoped would please the US government. Software giants Oracle and Walmart will hold their own stakes in TikTok, Oracle will manage the data flowing through the app, and leaders at the service will be US citizens.
Mr. Trump said on September 19 that he had approved the deal. But then, he stepped back, expressing concern that it wouldn’t put enough ownership of the app in the hands of Americans. Negotiations to finalize the deal have continued since then.
TikTok has received many extensions from the Foreign Investment Commission in the United States, a group of federal officials who check transactions involving international companies. The Trump administration decided not to extend the deadline after December 4 but refused to act on the deadline. Under Mr. Trump’s executive order, the Justice Department has authority to enforce his requests.
Federal judges have also detained the administration’s ban, removing some of its leverage over the app. The government has appealed the rulings.
Walmart declined to comment. Oracle did not respond to a request for comment.
Some people on ByteDance’s negotiating table believe there are advantages to completing a deal before Mr Trump leaves. It should make the company more certain of the app’s future, instead of waiting to see what Mr. Biden will do.
For now, if ByteDance wants to delay a deal outside of the Trump administration, “they don’t need to do anything and they can outlive him,” said James Lewis, director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center. Strategic and International Studies said. . He said that if the administration made a legal attempt to force the sale of the app, ByteDance would “suspend it in court.”
But TikTok’s fate under Mr. Biden is far from certain.
If he wants TikTok to ease the pressure immediately, Mr. Biden could cancel the executive order designed to cut off US companies. He may also cancel an order that requires ByteDance to sell apps.
Biden’s administration could also consider a series of measures, not to mention the total sale, to mitigate federal council concerns about TikTok, experts say.
That can take time. The new administration is still staffing key positions that can address the issue, meaning it may take several months before ByteDance can process the government’s divestment. And without canceling the policies that target TikTok, the Biden administration may find it difficult to deny government protections against those policies in court.
Mr. Biden may also decide to pursue a stiffer line towards the application as he wants to balance the desire for a tight Chinese policy with pressure from lawmakers from both sides, people worried about risks associated with Chinese technology companies.
While the negotiations between ByteDance and the government continued to go private, TikTok has maintained its lobbying efforts to convince government officials that they have nothing to fear about the app. cheerful slogan “Make Your Day”.
On December 18, the company sent a version of its email newsletter to policymakers in Washington. It reports that small businesses in Austin, Texas, are using the app to reach customers, that the company is donating $ 10 million to academic institutions that have public health programs and This service has updated its terms of service to better combat police bullying.
The end of the newsletter ended with the same message it always did: “We hope this made your day.”