Trump vows not to extend TikTok deadline beyond September 15

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Trump speaks at Andrews Air Force Base on September 10, 2020, before boarding a flight for a campaign rally in Michigan.
Enlarge / Trump speaks at Andrews Air Force Base on September 10, 2020, before boarding a flight for a campaign rally in Michigan.
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images


ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, is facing a looming September 15 deadline to sell its US operations or have them shut down by the Trump administration. On Thursday evening, President Trump told reporters that the deadline wouldn't be pushed back.

“We'll either close up TikTok in this country for security reasons, or it'll be sold,” Trump said just before boarding a flight to Michigan. “I'm not extending deadlines. No. It's September 15. There will be no extension of the TikTok deadline.”

Reports indicate that both Microsoft and Oracle have made offers for ByteDance's US operations. The problem is that the companies may not be able to appease the conflicting demands of the US and Chinese governments.

In early August, Trump declared TikTok a national security threat due to the potential for the Chinese government to collect data on American users and to conduct disinformation campaigns in the United States. Trump claimed that the International Emergency Economic Powers Act gives the president the authority to shut down an app like TikTok if it threatens national security.

A follow-up order on August 14 retroactively blocked ByteDance's 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly, the platform that subsequently evolved into TikTok. The president has the power to block international mergers that raise national security concerns, and some experts see this as a stronger legal basis for shutting down the service.

ByteDance fielded offers from both Microsoft and Oracle and was reportedly close to choosing one of them when the Chinese government intervened. At the end of August, Beijing announced new export control rules that limited exports of artificial intelligence software without government approval.

TikTok has sophisticated video recommendation algorithms that would likely run afoul of those rules. So the new rules mean that any sale would have to be approved by the Chinese government—which would prefer not to have the US seize control of one of China's most popular global technology platforms

There's a danger that the conflicting demands of the US and Chinese governments will leave no room for TikTok to do a deal with Microsoft, Oracle, or anyone else. In that case, ByteDance might be forced to shut down its US operations.

But it's not clear when a ban would actually take effect. Trump has told reporters that ByteDance needs to do a deal by September 15. But Trump's written executive orders gave different deadlines: around September 20 for the first executive order and mid-November for the second one. These deadlines could also be pushed back by the courts as they consider ByteDance's arguments that the orders themselves are illegal.

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