Will TikTok be banned in the US?
What’s the issue?
US authorities have two main concerns:
1. That the Chinese government could force TikTok to hand over data on private US citizens, including IP addresses leading to location data.
2. That TikTok’s algorithm could be manipulated by the Chinese government to spread misinformation.
- US user data is held on servers managed by Oracle in the US.
- Any changes to the algorithm made by ByteDance that impact what users see are independently assessed before being implemented on TikTok.
Former US president Donald Trump first tried to ban TikTok in 2020, but his executive order was thrown out in court for failing to follow due process.
Current US President Joe Biden is also mistrustful of China’s intentions, but is taking a more considered approach. His administration launched its own investigation into TikTok by the powerful Committee on Foreign Investment and made up of senior government officials.
Why is the issue heating up now?
TikTok’s efforts over the past two years to convince US officials it does not pose a risk to national security have been seriously undermined by recent revelations that:
1. TikTok employees used the app to spy on journalists and their locations in an effort to identify the source of leaked information.
2. The app has a ‘Heating’ feature which allows TikTok employees to manually boost content in the algorithm.
Representatives from both sides of politics in the US have criticized the Biden administration for being too slow to act on TikTok. Some have drafted proposed laws to ban TikTok in the US.
What’s happened and could happen?
TikTok has already been banned on federal government devices, a majority of states’ government devices, and on several university campuses.
Biden’s committee could force ByteDance to divest TikTok, as happened with Grindr in 2018. However, China also has powers that enable it to block technology like TikTok’s recommendation algorithm from being sold. The result would be legal limbo, with some analysts questioning whether TikTok could still operate in the US.
Biden could issue another executive order to ban TikTok on the advice of the Committee on Foreign Investment. This too would face a legal challenge that could last years, and would likely provoke an uproar from the country’s 100m+ TikTok users.
What’s happening in the EU?
TikTok recently met with European Union officials to discuss its plans to comply with the new Digital Safety Act and Digital Markets Act which come into effect in September.
During the meeting TikTok gave the EU assurances that it had tightened protocols in the wake of the journalist spying incident. It plans to establish a data center in Ireland to reduce the flow of data out of the EU.
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