US House Passes Bill that Could Ban TikTok Nationwide

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TikTok is owned by Chinese-based ByteDance. (Image Credit: Tech Crunch)

On Wednesday, the US House approved a bill that could introduce a nationwide TikTok ban in an overwhelming 352 to 65 majority. If approved by the Senate and the President, the bill would give the Chinese-based TikTok parent company, ByteDance, 6 months to sell its controlling stake in the company or face being blocked in the US.

US lawmakers have long felt concerns about China’s influence over TikTok and its obscure relationship with ByteDance. Since TikTok’s proliferation in the US, numerous reports have accused ByteDance of exchanging the data of its 170 million American TikTok users with the Chinese government. Under Chinese cybersecurity laws, TikTok, like all other Chinese-owned apps, is bound by an agreement to share all user data with the Chinese government, but has fervently denied doing so. With increasing legal pressure in the US, TikTok has tried to reassure regulators that it has taken steps to wall off US user data from ByteDance employees in China. It has also reportedly spent $1.5 billion building an operation intended to convince US lawmakers that its hugely popular app does maintain its users’ data confidentiality. Despite this, it has faced fierce criticism, and the Wall Street Journal last month claimed that the relationship between ByteDance and the Chinese government remained “porous” with “some” exchange of users’ data.

Citing national security concerns, the bill seeks to cap “foreign adversary controlled applications such as TikTok”, stipulating that ByteDance will be given 6 months to sell off its majority stake in TikTok to a seller approved by the US President or will be blocked in the US. On Wednesday, the bill was proposed to the US House, the lower chamber of Congress, where it was approved by a bipartisan majority. The bill must next pass through the Senate and then be signed off by the President before coming into law; Biden, last week, said he would sign it into law if the Senate passed it.

However, the bill has also faced substantial criticism; the Global Times, a Chinese-owned newspaper, has accused the US of “abusing the concept of national security” in order to seize TikTok “by force”. Moreover, under Chinese law, ByteDance would have to seek approval from Chinese officials for a forced divestiture, which Beijing has vowed to oppose. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin has said the move would “come back to bite the US”. Moreover, despite pursuing a ban on TikTok during his presidency, Trump has expressed his opposition to the bill in a possible effort to court the predominantly younger demographic that make up TikTok’s 170 million American users ahead of the November general election.

Ultimately, members of Congress have long been critical of tech platforms and their expansive influence in American society, particularly companies with affiliations to foreign governments. Now, legislators are poised to open another front in their long-running feud with the tech industry, after finally introducing measures to regulate crypto-trading and taking down Sam Bankman-Fried. Yet, at TikTok’s $184 billion valuation according to the Financial Times, and Beijing’s sustained opposition to TikTok’s sale, questions arise over who is to buy the social media giant.

Written by Rakan Pharaon

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