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China’s TikTok officially suing Trump admin over US ban

TikTok video sharing app. (Pexels/Released)
August 24, 2020

ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns the popular social video sharing app TikTok has officially announced its lawsuit over President Donald Trump’s executive order banning the company’s U.S. transactions.

“Today we are filing a complaint in federal court challenging the Administration’s efforts to ban TikTok in the US” the company announced in a statement Monday, referring to the Trump administration. The company said its lawsuit will argue that the administration claimed the app is a national security threat “without evidence” and that the administration ignored TikTok’s efforts to address those concerns before Trump announced the ban.

Trump’s initial Aug. 6 executive order would block U.S. transactions with TikTok. A second, Aug. 14, executive order cites a Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) decision order TikTok to divest from its Chinse ownership. The second executive order gives TikTok 90 days to divest from its Chinese ownership. The 90-day time frame for divesting its ownership would expire on Nov. 12, unless TikTok is granted a 30-day extension.

“The executive order seeks to ban TikTok purportedly because of the speculative possibility that the application could be manipulated by the Chinese government,” an excerpt of TikTok’s lawsuit reads. “But, as the U.S. government is well aware, Plaintiffs have taken extraordinary measures to protect the privacy and security of TikTok’s U.S. user data, including by having TikTok store such data outside of China (in the United States and Singapore) and by erecting software barriers that help ensure that TikTok stores its U.S. user data separately from the user data of other ByteDance products.”

The TikTok statement goes on to list other efforts the company has made to address U.S. concerns about the app, including hiring an American CEO, Global Chief Security Officer, and General Counsel who are all based in the U.S. and not subject to Chinese laws that could require the company to share user data with the Chinese government.

Despite TikTok’s efforts to address the issue, security concerns about the app have been persistent in recent months. The Pentagon issued guidance in 2019 for U.S. military service members to avoid using the app and both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy have banned the app’s use.

A report shared by mobile-app analysis firm, AppCensus, said TikTok has also exploited a programming workaround in Google’s Android App store to access user data, known as media access control (MAC) addresses, in a practice banned by Google. The MAC address store long-term user data. The AppCensus report alleged TikTok used the exploit for around 15 months and reportedly ended the practice in November as U.S. scrutiny was building against the app.

According to Bloomberg, TikTok has also been in talks to settle a lawsuit Chicago federal court, calling for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over claims the app records facial-scan images of children and sends confidential information about adult users to China.”

CNBC reported that while TikTok is suing the stop the initial Aug. 6, executive action blocking U.S. transactions with TikTok, the company remains in talks with Microsoft and Oracle and other U.S. companies to sell its U.S., Canadian and Australian and New Zealand operations. The company is not challenging the CFIUS decision calling for it to divest from its Chinese ownership by Nov. 12.