TikTok, the fast-growing video sharing app, announced it was suing the US government on Monday over an executive order banning transactions with the Chinese company in the US.
In a blogpost, TikTok said it strongly disagreed with the White House’s position that the company was a national security threat, saying it had “taken extraordinary measures to protect the privacy and security of TikTok’s US user data”.
The company said the administration has ignored its “extensive efforts” to address its concerns. “We do not take suing the government lightly,” TikTok said. “But with the executive order threatening to bring a ban on our US operations ... we simply have no choice.”
TikTok, which is owned by China-based ByteDance, announced over the weekend it planned to challenge the ban and said it “strongly disagreed” with concerns raised by Trump and an executive order issued on 6 August that set in motion a 45-day period for TikTok to find a buyer for its US operations.
The company said it was “shocked” by the order, which it said was issued “without any due process”. A subsequent executive order provided a 90-day deadline for the transaction to be completed.
Over the past month several US tech companies, including Microsoft, Twitter and Oracle, have expressed interest or announced talks with ByteDance to acquire some TikTok’s operations outside China. None have indicated that a deal is close to being reached.
The move coincides with the first day of the Republican national convention, which is likely to prominently feature the president’s “tough on China” re-election platform.
“We are coming hard at the China virus,” Peter Navarro, the White House trade adviser, told Fox News Sunday, adding that Americans are “going to hear from Donald J Trump is how we are going to fight China and the China virus”.
That prompted a sharp response from China’s foreign ministry, which said today that some American politicians had “attempted to strangle” TikTok, WeChat, Huawei Technologies and other Chinese companies.
“China supports the relevant Chinese companies using legal weapons to safeguard their legitimate rights,” said Zhao Lijian, ministry spokesman. He said that US efforts to decouple US and China’s trade links “to solve one country’s own problem are like ‘drinking poison to quench thirst’”.
TikTok, which has about 100m US users, “sought to engage in good faith to provide a constructive solution” for nearly a year, the company told the Verge on Sunday.
“What we encountered instead was a lack of due process as the administration paid no attention to facts and tried to insert itself into negotiations between private businesses.” The company said it was left with no choice but to mount a legal challenge to the order.
The mounting dispute comes as the Wall Street Journal reported Monday that Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, sought to raise concern about the threat from Chinese tech companies, specifically TikTok, during a speech about freedom of expression in Washington DC last year.
Zuckerberg repeated the message in behind-the-scenes meetings with officials and lawmakers, the paper reported, and at a private dinner at the White House in last October.
Soon after the Arkansas Republican senator Tom Cotton and the New York Democratic senator Chuck Schumer wrote a letter to intelligence officials demanding an inquiry into TikTok. The Trump administration then began a national security review of the company.
Facebook, which has spent more on lobbying than any other single company in the first six months of 2020, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics, stands to gain from federal action against Chinese tech firms: it recently launch a video-streaming app, Facebook Live Video, to compete with TikTok.
A Facebook spokesman said Zuckerberg has no recollection of discussing TikTok at the White House dinner.
“Our view on China has been clear: we must compete,” Andy Stone told the Wall Street Journal in a statement. “As Chinese companies and influence have been growing so has the risk of a global internet based on their values, as opposed to ours.”
Asked about the dinner, a White House spokesman said the administration “is committed to protecting the American people from all cyber related threats to critical infrastructure, public health and safety, and our economic and national security”.
But Zuckerberg has also spoken out against the executive order against TikTok, according to BuzzFeed News, arguing at an employee meeting this month that global harm of such a move could outweigh any short-term gain to Facebook, which is not permitted to operate in China. The Guardian