TikTok faces potential ban in the US

TikTok faces ban in US unless it parts ways with Chinese owner ByteDance

The House of Representatives has passed a bill that would effectively ban TikTok from the US unless Chinese owner ByteDance gives up its share of the immensely popular app.

TikTok is an immensely popular social media platform that allows users to create, share, and discover, short video clips. It’s experienced explosive growth since it first appeared in 2017, and is now said to have well over 1.5 billion users, with an estimated 170 million of them in the US.

Since 2020, several governments and organizations have banned, or considered banning, TikTok from their staff’s devices, but a complete ban of an internet app would be a first in the US.

Other countries have done this before. In 2020, India was the first country to ban TikTok, along with around 200 other Chinese apps that were all blocked from operating within the country. The ban cost TikTok some 200 million users.

General Paul Nakasone, Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) certainly fueled the feeling of necessity for such a ban. Speaking at a US Senate hearing in March 2023, the general said “one third of Americans get their news from TikTok”, adding “one sixth of American youth say they’re constantly on TikTok. That’s a loaded gun.”

And a former executive at TikTok’s parent company ByteDance claimed in court documents that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had access to TikTok data, despite the data being stored in the US. The allegations were made in a wrongful dismissal lawsuit which was filed in May in the San Francisco Superior Court.

Ever since then, TikTok has been battling to convince politicians that it operates independently of ByteDance, which has deep ties to the CCP. For example, TikTok has repeatedly claimed the Chinese government never demanded access to US data and that TikTok would not comply if it did.

All this, and the fear of foreign influence on the upcoming elections, led to the bipartisan legislation introduced in the House with the expectation to send it to the Senate later this week.

Essentially, the bill says that TikTok has to find a new owner that is not based in a foreign adversarial country within the next 180 days or face a ban until it does comply.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), an international non-profit digital rights group based in the US, says it opposes this bill, mainly because it is afraid that TikTok will not be the last app to face this type of ban. It mentions Tencent’s WeChat app as an example of what could be the next target.

A year ago, supporters of digital rights across the country successfully stopped the federal RESTRICT Act aka the “TikTok ban.” The RESTRICT Act was introduced in the United States Senate on March 7, 2023 and requires federal actions to identify and mitigate foreign threats to information and communications technology products and services (e.g., social media applications). It also establishes civil and criminal penalties for violations under the bill.

The EFF argues that the bill will not stop the sharing of data but it will reduce online rights in a way that is unconstitutional. And it says the focus should be on the common practice of data collection in the first place, rather than single out one app.

The point made by the EFF stipulates that data brokers will continue to sell our information to whomever is willing to pay. And the apps providing brokers with data are certainly not limited to those that hail from a foreign adversarial country.

Chinese officials reportedly said the government would “firmly oppose” any forced sale of TikTok because it would “seriously undermine the confidence of investors from various countries, including China, to invest in the United States.”

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Pieter Arntz

Malware Intelligence Researcher

Was a Microsoft MVP in consumer security for 12 years running. Can speak four languages. Smells of rich mahogany and leather-bound books.