A US federal judge ordered the Trump administration to postpone a ban on US downloads of Tiktok set for Sunday or file court papers to defend the move by Friday afternoon, according to court files released Thursday.

Tiktok’s Chinese parent Bytedance filed for a preliminary injunction to prevent the ban on Wednesday afternoon. The ban is set to take effect at midnight Sunday and will remove the popular video-sharing app from US app stores.

US District Judge Carl Nichols said in an order Thursday that the defendants, including US President Donald Trump, US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and the US Department of Commerce, must respond to Tiktok’s motion for a preliminary injunction or file a notice describing the delay of the effective date of the ban.

A similar move: The Trump administration said last Friday that it would ban from US app stores Tiktok and Wechat, a Chinese instant messaging app, starting the evening of Sept. 20. The Commerce Department delayed the ban against Tiktok for one week because Bytedance is close to a deal with Oracle and Walmart to set up a new US company.

  • On Saturday, a US federal court halted the ban against Wechat. The court said in an order that the plaintiffs, a group of Wechat users, had shown there are “serious questions” related to their First Amendment claim.

The mysterious deal: Oracle and Walmart said Saturday that they will set up a new company called Tiktok Global with Bytedance as part of the deal that will meet the Trump administration’s demands to divest Tiktok from its Chinese owner.

  • The US software maker would hold 12.5% of the new company, and retail giant would own 7.5%. Bytedance will own the remaining 80%.
  • Trump said Saturday he had approved the deal “in concept.”
  • However, the deal still needs to gain approval from the Chinese government after it revised in late August a list of technologies that are restricted for export.

Analysis: At the moment, all signs are showing that Beijing will block the deal. Even though there is no direct objection from Chinese officials, state media has started delivering the message that the deal harms China’s interests and dignity.

  • The policy changes on technology export gave Bytedance more bargaining chips when negotiating with potential buyers and the results turned out to be better for the company than an outright sale of Tiktok.
  • But now the problem is that Beijing doesn’t seem to be satisfied. Chinese authorities said Thursday that it had received applications from Bytedance to export certain technology. If Chinese officials really see the deal as detrimental to China, they won’t approve Bytedance’s applications.
  • If Beijing finally decides to block the deal, Tiktok will be removed from US app stores as planned.
  • In this case, turning to the court is Bytedance’s last resort. The court order from Thursday is an initial win. But if the end result is that the ban is allowed, Tiktok will be cut off from new US users, which will cause “irreparable damage.”

Wei Sheng

Wei Sheng is a Beijing-based reporter covering hardware, smartphone, and telecommunications, along with regulations and policies related to the China tech scene. Before joining TechNode, he wrote about...