LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Under President Trump's executive order, TikTok would be banned in the U.S. starting next month. Today NPR learned that the company plans to take the Trump administration to court over the order. Its legal argument is that Trump's executive order is unconstitutional. For more, we're joined by NPR's technology reporter Bobby Allyn.
Bobby, tell us more about TikTok's case against the president's order.
BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Right. So I talked to a person on TikTok's legal team who's actually writing the lawsuit against the administration, and here's what I've learned. TikTok is going to argue that it was never given any chance to respond to the concerns that are spelled out in Trump's executive order. Typically, there is some kind of prior notice. You know, like, a company like TikTok usually is given a chance to explain itself, but TikTok says that never happened here.
Additionally, TikTok's lawyers say the very basis for banning the app - that the Chinese Communist Party could potentially get its hands on Americans' data - is never proven.
FADEL: OK. So has the administration responded?
ALLYN: The White House when I reached out to them declined to comment on the forthcoming suit here. But they did say that they're committed to protecting Americans from cyberthreats that they say could endanger the nation's security. In Trump's order, you know, he relies on emergency economic powers that essentially would cut off all ties to TikTok.
What would that mean in practice? Well, it would mean if you want to download TikTok, you wouldn't be able to. Landlords who host TikTok's offices would be forced to evict them. The paychecks of TikTok's a thousand U.S. employees would be frozen indefinitely.
So, as you can imagine, TikTok's, you know, taking this pretty seriously. But I'll note here, you know, the app's been downloaded more than 100 million times, and it's really one of the first apps out of China to become a huge global success. But this order - it would be fatal for them.
FADEL: So the Trump order also put pressure on an American company to buy TikTok. And Microsoft is in talks to acquire it. Where do those talks stand?
ALLYN: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the order was seen basically as a way to kind of speed up an acquisition of TikTok. And as you mentioned, Microsoft is one of a handful of companies considering buying TikTok. And I talked to people close to those discussions, and they all say talks are early. There's a lot of work still. You know, like, how many countries would Microsoft control TikTok in? Would TikTok's Chinese parent company, ByteDance, then become a competitor in some of the other markets? What would that look like?
So there's a lot that needs to be hashed out. But, you know, in the U.S., there are millions and millions of teens who would just be utterly heartbroken if...
ALLYN: ...TikTok disappeared. You know, especially in the pandemic, it's just become a really important place for young people to digitally congregate and share videos of them dancing and cooking and even political activism. It's really become a place for young people to do all sorts of things.
FADEL: Right. And so the big question is, is TikTok - it's been a target in Washington over concerns about ties to China. But are those fears justified?
ALLYN: So TikTok collects just as much data as any app on your phone. The big difference is in its terms of service. So in the fine print, it says it can share that data with its Chinese parent company. And there's absolutely no proof as of now that TikTok has given that information over to Chinese authorities. And, you know, foreign policy experts and even some in the intelligence community have examined the TikTok app and said it doesn't look like it poses a big national security threat.
That said, if the Chinese government wanted data, experts have told me they would be able to get it from TikTok under Chinese law. So yeah, it's possible in theory that China can get its hands on Americans' data. But right now, there's no direct proof showing that's happening.
And TikTok, for its part, you know, has been bending over backwards to show it is not beholden to China. Its primary servers for U.S. data are based in Virginia. It's even opened up its algorithms for regulators and experts to examine. But still, China hawks say, you know, TikTok has got to go.
FADEL: That's NPR's Bobby Allyn.
Thanks so much, Bobby.
ALLYN: Hey, thank you.
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