A federal judge dealt a blow to the Trump administration’s move to ban the popular Chinese-owned TikTok app from being downloaded in the US on Sunday.
Hours before the order was due to come into force, Judge Carl Nichols ruled in Washington DC that the administration’s security concerns were insufficient to justify the ban on the app.
He granted the company a preliminary injunction blocking the ban which was due to come into force at midnight in the US.
Had the ban been upheld, both Google and Apple would have been ordered to remove TikTok from their mobile app stores.
Those already with the app would have been prevented from downloading upgrades.
ByteDance, the owners of the app that is estimated to have been downloaded two billion times since its creation four years ago, hopes to head off the ban by partnering with two US companies, Oracle and Walmart.
That deal was given preliminary approval by Donald Trump, but details of the deal still have to be worked out. It also needs approval from national security experts sitting on the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US.
Should the deal not go ahead, a more sweeping ban will come into force around a week after the presidential election.
TikTok went to court hoping to persuade a judge to postpone the ban and throw out an order signed by the US president which said the app could be manipulated by the Chinese government.
In his submission to the court, John Hall, TikTok’s lawyer, described the proposed ban as punitive, saying it was “just a blunt way to whack the company now while doing nothing to achieve the stated objective of the prohibition".
The Trump administration has sought to seize control of the app in the US, arguing that otherwise there was a danger that information garnered from American consumers could be shared with the Chinese regime.
TikTok has insisted that it operates completely independently of the Chinese government.
The legal row reflects growing tension between Washington and Beijing with the Trump administration moving against other major Chinese companies, including the telecom giant Huawei.
In addition, TikTok aroused the ire of the Trump campaign over a prank in which thousands of TikTok users registered to attend an election rally in Tulsa in June, only not to turn up - leaving the president to address acres of empty seats.