How, why and if the US bans TikTok

When you scroll to mine TikTok for you page, you see Selena and Haley dramas, vegetarian recipes, cats, comedy, and lots of capybaras. This may not seem particularly threatening to you, but it certainly does to governments around the world.

It seems everyone is trying to ban TikTok.

Why the US wants to ban TikTok

TikTok was once an American app called in a new tab), but Chinese tech company ByteDance bought it in 2017. In the early days of US sanctuary regulations, TikTok had a real moment — and the moment has held. We’ve seen people rise to fame from viral dances and cooking videos, and we’ve seen how the US government would handle a content-obsessed nation led by a foreign tech company. In January 2019, the American think tank Peterson Institute for International Economics(Opens in a new tab) investigated the social networking platform and found that the app was able to send data to its parent company in China, ByteDance. Later in 2019, Senators Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton and Chuck Schumer asked the administration to investigate the app.

Eventually presidents — including both Donald Trump and Joe Biden — considered banning TikTok. Trump-era executive order said TikTok’s data collection(Opens in a new tab) “threatens to allow the Chinese Communist Party access to personal and proprietary information of Americans.” The effect of TikTok having that information and giving it to the Chinese government, Trump said, would open the way for China to monitor the locations of government officials, conduct espionage and build blackmail dossiers.

Investigative journalist Emily Baker-White has uncovered some disturbing examples of ByteDance employees at play high-tech surveillance(Opens in a new tab) on she and a partner of hers(Opens in a new tab)and showed that US data supposedly quarantined in the US was access from China(Opens in a new tab). While these episodes are deeply disturbing, let’s say they make TikTok, in the words of Marco Rubio(Opens in a new tab)“a CCP puppet company” strains plausibility.

Experts do not all agree, for example, on the extent of the Chinese government’s involvement. Georgetown University law professor Anupam Chander told NPR that the allegations that TikTok(Opens in a new tab) The sharing of US user data — or its use for political gain — lacks much confirmation.

“There is no evidence of that,” Chander said. “None of the claims here, even the claims that some insiders are making about people accessing China,” Chander explained. “This access is not provided by the Chinese government, but by others within Byte Dance’s corporate structure, [look at] data about TikTok employees and others in the United States.”

It’s clear, though, that the app threatens America’s dominance in technology — just look at all the ways American tech companies are copying TikTok — including competing for ways to copy the tempting For You algorithm. When it comes to data, some lawmakers believe TikTok is being used as a tool for the Chinese Communist Party to spy on Americans — which may be a bit of a stretch.

In addition, some activist groups, such as the ACLU, say they are banning TikTok would violate the First Amendment(Opens in a new tab).

What the US TikTok bans have looked like so far

A barrage of bills trying to limit TikTok’s reach due to alleged data sharing flooded the offices of US lawmakers in late 2019 — most of them ill-conceived, ineffective and, in a word, doomed.

First came the Senator National Security and Privacy Act by Josh Hawley(Opens in a new tab) that would have prohibited ByteDance from sending Americans’ personal data to China. He also introduced a bill that would have banned the app from being downloaded to government devices, a proposal that would ultimately stick. By the end of 2019, US Navy and US Army(Opens in a new tab) banned TikTok from all government devices. Then-President Donald Trump tried — clumsily — to ban the app. In an executive order of August 2020, Trump said TikTok had 45 days to sell to an American company or it would be banned. TikTok filed an injunction in response and the ban was halted. Meanwhile, TikTok has installed an American CEO, part of its ongoing effort to distance itself from China.

Then we got to the Biden era. Within the first months of his presidency, Biden has pushed back on all of Trump’s attempts to ban TikTok but asked the government to review the app for security threats.


These campuses ban TikTok. Here’s why.

While the effort behind all these bans may seem aggressive, it hasn’t had much of an impact beyond political statements. Just because the app is banned on government devices doesn’t mean people who work in government can’t use the app — they just can’t on their work phones. And schools such as the University of Mississippi(Opens in a new tab) that have banned the app on institutional wifi and devices, simply forcing students to use a different wifi connection or their cellular plan to access the app.

Furthermore, even the most effective ban imaginable would mean that ByteDance cannot do business in the US, meaning that Apple and Google would not be able to host the platform in their app stores. But you will still be able to consume TikTok videos. it would just be a lot harder. Imagine someone in another country or someone in the US, but with a VPN and a little ingenuity, tweeting a TikTok video and having Americans watch it that way.

It’s the US actually going to ban tiktok?

Despite the relatively weak reasoning, the legislation has not only not slowed down, it has become more serious. In addition to state-level decisions to remove TikTok from government devices and block its use on some university Wi-Fi systems, there are now bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Both of these bills would give the executive branch the power to ban implementation.

A bipartisan group of senators unveiled legislation called the Restricting the appearance of security threats at risk to information and communications technology (RESTRICT)(Opens in a new tab). It would essentially allow the president to take action against any tech company with ties to China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela that “poses an unreasonable or unacceptable risk” to national security. Republican House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul presented HR 1153(Opens in a new tab) in Parliament, a bill that “directs the administration to ban TikTok or any software applications that threaten US national security(Opens in a new tab)TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee later this month, which may clear up some of the data privacy questions.

So, long answer: The US wants to ban TikTok for political reasons, but covers it with a thin veil of privacy concerns. It probably won’t happen.

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