A judge in Washington has temporarily blocked a Trump administration order banning Apple and Google from offering Chinese-owned app TikTok for download that was set to take effect at 11:59pm on Sunday.
US district judge Carl Nichols granted a preliminary injunction sought by TikTok’s owner, ByteDance, to allow the app to remain available at US app stores, but declined “at this time” to block additional commerce department restrictions that are set to take effect on 12 November that TikTok has said would have the impact of making the app impossible to use in the United States.
Nichols’ detailed written opinion is expected to be released as soon as Monday.
The Commerce Department said in a statement it “will comply with the injunction and has taken immediate steps to do so.” The statement, which defended the TikTok order and Trump’s executive order demanding owner ByteDance divest its TikTok US operations within 90 days, did not specify whether the government would appeal.
TikTok said it was pleased with the injunction and added it “will also maintain our ongoing dialogue with the government to turn our proposal, which the president gave his preliminary approval to last week, into an agreement.”
The company’s lawyer John Hall had said a ban would be “punitive” and close off a public forum used by tens of millions of Americans.
In a written brief filed ahead of the hearing, TikTok lawyers said the ban was “arbitrary and capricious” and “would undermine data security” by blocking updates and fixes to the app used by some 100 million Americans.
The company also said the ban was unnecessary because negotiations were already underway to restructure the ownership of TikTok to address national security issues raised by the administration.
TikTok has an estimated 100 million users in the US and 700 million worldwide, making it one of the largest operators in the social media space.
Government lawyers argued the president had a right to take national security actions, and said the ban was needed because of TikTok’s links to the Chinese government through its parent firm ByteDance.
A government brief called ByteDance “a mouthpiece” for the Chinese Communist Party and said it was “committed to promoting the CCP’s agenda and messaging.”
ByteDance said on 20 September it had struck a preliminary deal for Walmart Inc and Oracle Corp to take stakes in a new company, TikTok Global, that would oversee US operations after Trump said he had given the deal his “blessing.” Negotiations continue over the terms of the agreement and to resolve concerns from Washington and Beijing.
The deal is still to be reviewed by the US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).