A federal judge on Sunday postponed a Trump administration order that would have banned the popular video sharing app TikTok from U.S. smartphone app stores.
A more comprehensive ban remains scheduled for November, about a week after the presidential election. But the judge, Carl Nichols of the U.S District Court for the District of Columbia, cast doubt on the government’s argument that TikTok is a national security threat because of its ties to China.
The ruling followed an emergency hearing Sunday morning — hours before the app-store ban was set to take effect — in which lawyers for the Chinese-owned app argued that the ban would infringe on First Amendment rights and do irreparable harm to the business.
Here are some questions and answers about the dispute.
WHAT DID THE JUDGE SAY?
Nichols, who was appointed to the bench by President Donald Trump last year, said in a ruling unsealed Monday that the “government has provided ample evidence that China presents a significant national security threat.”
But he added there is “less substantial” evidence that TikTok itself presents such a threat or that a ban is an effective way to address it.
Trump is trying to use his emergency authority under a 1977 law enabling a U.S. president to regulate international commerce to address unusual threats. But Nichols said that law has an exception to protect personal communications and disseminating information across borders — which he said would include much of the content found on TikTok.
Nichols also sided with TikTok’s arguments that the app-store ban would cause it to lose users and advertisers, driving them to “alternative platforms and eroding TikTok’s competitive position” even if TikTok were ultimately to win its case.
WHAT IS TIKTOK?
TikTok is a smartphone app for making and watching short videos that’s popular with teens and young adults, with typical posts centered around lip syncing, dancing or comedic pranks and sketches.
TikTok says it has 100 million U.S. users and hundreds of millions globally. It has its own influencer culture, enabling people to make a living by posting videos on the service, and hosts ads from major U.S. companies.
It’s owned by Beijing-based tech company ByteDance. Like other social media services, the app collects a lot of personal data about its users. The Trump administration says it poses a threat because Americans’ user data could fall into the hands of the Chinese government because Chinese companies are subject to intrusive laws compelling their cooperation with intelligence agencies.
TikTok has countered that Trump is targeting it for political reasons, tying his August executive order in part to a prank in which TikTok users mobilized to depress turnout at a Trump rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Trump has said TikTok could avoid a U.S. ban if it’s sold to an American company.
TikTok is still scrambling to firm up a deal tentatively struck earlier in September in which it would partner with Oracle, a huge database-software company, and Walmart in an effort to win the blessing of both the Chinese and American governments. The company also last week sought China’s approval to export its artificial intelligence technology, after the Chinese government set new restrictions in a move to gain leverage.
TikTok said in a statement that it was pleased with the U.S. court ruling and continues to work to turn its deal proposal into an actual agreement. The Commerce Department, which is responsible for the specific orders banning TikTok, said it will comply with the judge’s order but intends to vigorously defend the administration’s efforts against the app.