The US government is once again threatening to ban TikTok. What you should know


Practically two-and-a-half years after the Trump administration threatened to ban TikTok in the US if it didn’t divest from its Chinese language homeowners, the Biden administration is now doing the identical.

TikTok acknowledged to CNN this week that federal officers are demanding the app’s Chinese language homeowners promote their stake within the social media platform, or danger dealing with a US ban of the app.

The brand new directive comes from the multiagency Committee on Overseas Funding in the US (CFIUS), following years of negotiations between TikTok and the federal government physique. (CFIUS is similar group that beforehand pressured a sale of LGBTQ relationship app Grindr from Chinese language possession again in 2019.)

The ultimatum from the US authorities represents an obvious escalation in strain from Washington as extra lawmakers as soon as once more increase nationwide safety considerations in regards to the app. Abruptly, TikTok’s future in the US seems extra unsure – however this time, it comes after years during which the app has solely broadened its attain over American tradition.

Right here’s what it’s best to know.

Some in Washington have expressed considerations that the app could possibly be infiltrated by the Chinese language authorities to basically spy on American customers or acquire entry to US person information. Others have raised alarms over the chance that the Chinese language authorities may use the app to unfold propaganda to a US viewers. On the coronary heart of each is an underlying concern that any firm doing enterprise in China finally falls beneath Chinese language Communist Occasion legal guidelines.

Different considerations raised usually are not distinctive to TikTok, however extra broadly in regards to the potential for social media platforms to steer youthful customers down dangerous rabbit holes.

If this newest growth is providing you with déjà vu, that’s as a result of it echoes the saga TikTok already went by way of in the US that kicked off in 2020, when the Trump administration first threatened it with a ban by way of government order if it didn’t promote itself to a US-based firm.

Oracle and Walmart had been advised as patrons, social media creators had been in a frenzy, and TikTok kicked off a prolonged authorized battle in opposition to the US authorities. Some critics on the time blasted then-president Donald Trump’s campaign in opposition to the app as political theater rooted in xenophobia, calling out Trump’s uncommon suggestion that the US ought to get a “reduce” of any deal if it pressured the app’s sale to an American agency.

The Biden administration finally rescinded the Trump-era government order concentrating on TikTok, however changed it with a broader directive centered on investigating know-how linked to international adversaries, together with China. In the meantime, CFIUS continued negotiations to strike a attainable deal that might enable the app to proceed working in the US. Then scrutiny started to kick up once more in Washington.

Lawmakers renewed their scrutiny of TikTok for its ties to China by way of its father or mother firm, ByteDance, after a report final 12 months advised US person information had been repeatedly accessed by China-based workers. TikTok has disputed the report.

In uncommon remarks earlier this month at a Harvard Enterprise Overview convention, TikTok CEO Shou Chew doubled down on the corporate’s prior commitments to handle the lawmakers’ considerations.

“The Chinese language authorities has really by no means requested us for US person information,” Chew mentioned, “and we’ve mentioned this on the document, that even when we the place requested for that, we is not going to present that.” Chew added that “all US person information is saved, by default, within the Oracle Cloud infrastructure” and “entry to that information is totally managed by US personnel.”

TikTok CEO, Shou Zi Chew is interviewed at offices the company uses on Tuesday February 14, 2023 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As for the considerations that the Chinese language authorities would possibly use the app to spew propaganda to a US viewers, Chew emphasised that this may be unhealthy for enterprise, noting that some 60% of TikTok’s homeowners are world buyers. “Misinformation and propaganda has no place on our platform, and our customers don’t anticipate that,” he mentioned.

In response to the CFIUS divestiture request, a TikTok spokesperson informed CNN this week {that a} change in possession wouldn’t influence how US person information is accessed.

“If defending nationwide safety is the target, divestment doesn’t remedy the issue,” TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan mentioned in a press release. “A change in possession wouldn’t impose any new restrictions on information flows or entry. One of the simplest ways to handle considerations about nationwide safety is with the clear, US-based safety of US person information and programs, with strong third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we’re already implementing.”

TikTok is de facto solely a nationwide safety danger insofar because the Chinese language authorities might have leverage over TikTok or its father or mother firm. China has nationwide safety legal guidelines that require firms beneath its jurisdiction to cooperate with a broad vary of safety actions. The primary difficulty is that the general public has few methods of verifying whether or not or how that leverage has been exercised. (TikTok doesn’t function in China, however ByteDance does.)

Privateness and safety researchers who’ve regarded beneath the hood at TikTok’s app say that, so far as they will inform, TikTok isn’t a lot completely different from different social networks when it comes to the information it collects or the way it communicates with firm servers. That’s nonetheless numerous personally revealing data, nevertheless it doesn’t suggest that TikTok’s app itself is inherently malicious or a type of spyware and adware.

That’s why the priority actually focuses on TikTok and ByteDance’s relationship to the Chinese language authorities, and why the Biden administration is pushing for TikTok’s Chinese language homeowners to promote their shares.

India banned TikTok in the summertime of 2020, following a violent border conflict between the nation and China, in a transfer that abruptly disconnected the greater than 200 million customers the app had amassed there.

Whereas stopping in need of banning the app on private units, quite a lot of different nations, together with the US, Canada and United Kingdom have just lately enacted bans of TikTok on official, authorities units.

Late final 12 months, President Joe Biden signed laws prohibiting TikTok on federal authorities units, and greater than half of US states have enacted the same mandate on the state degree. A TikTok spokesperson beforehand blasted this ban as “little greater than political theater.”

“The ban of TikTok on federal units handed in December with none deliberation, and sadly that method has served as a blueprint for different world governments,” the spokesperson added.