The US government threatens to ban TikTok again. What you should know – CNN


Nearly two and a half years after the Trump administration threatened to ban TikTok in the U.S. if it didn’t divest from its Chinese owners, the Biden administration is now doing the same.

TikTok acknowledged to CNN this week that federal officials are demanding the app’s Chinese owners sell their stake in the social media platform or risk facing a US ban on the app.

The new directive comes from the multi-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), following years of negotiations between TikTok and the government body. (CFIUS is the same group that previously forced the sale of Chinese-owned LGBTQ dating app Grindr in 2019.)

The US government’s ultimatum represents an apparent escalation of pressure from Washington, as more lawmakers again raise national security concerns about enforcement. TikTok’s future in the U.S. suddenly looks more uncertain, but this time it comes after years in which the app has only expanded its reach into American culture.

Here’s what you should know.

Some in Washington have expressed concern that the app could be infiltrated by the Chinese government to essentially spy on US users or access US user data. Others have raised the alarm about the possibility that the Chinese government could use the app to spread propaganda to an American audience. At the heart of both is the underlying concern that any company doing business in China will eventually fall under the laws of the Chinese Communist Party.

Other concerns raised are not unique to TikTok, but more broadly about the potential for social media platforms to lead younger users down harmful rabbit holes.

If this latest development is giving you déjà vu, it’s because it echoes the saga TikTok already experienced in the United States that began in 2020, when the Trump administration first threatened it with a ban via executive order if it wasn’t sold. to a company based in the United States.

Oracle and Walmart were suggested as buyers, social media creators were in a frenzy, and TikTok began a long legal battle against the US government. Some critics at the time blasted then-President Donald Trump’s crusade against the app as political theater rooted in xenophobia, calling Trump’s unusual suggestion that the United States should get a “cut” from any deal if it forced the sale of the app to a US company. .

The Biden administration eventually rescinded the Trump-era executive order targeting TikTok, but replaced it with a broader directive focused on investigating technology linked to foreign adversaries, including China. Meanwhile, CFIUS continued negotiations to reach a possible settlement that would allow the app to continue operating in the United States. Then the scrutiny began again in Washington.

Lawmakers renewed scrutiny of TikTok over its ties to China through its parent company, ByteDance, after a report last year suggested that employees in China had repeatedly accessed US user data. TikTok has disputed the report.

In rare comments earlier this month at a Harvard Business Review conference, TikTok CEO Shou Chew doubled down on the company’s previous commitments to address lawmakers’ concerns.

“The Chinese government has never actually asked us for US user data,” Chew said, “and we’ve said on the record that even if asked, we won’t provide it.” Chew added that “all US user data is, by default, stored on the Oracle Cloud infrastructure” and “access to this data is fully controlled by US personnel.”

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

As for concerns that the Chinese government could use the app to launch propaganda at an American audience, Chew stressed that this would be bad for business, noting that 60% of TikTok’s owners are global investors . “Disinformation and propaganda have no place on our platform, and our users don’t expect it,” he said.

In response to the CFIUS divestment request, a TikTok spokesperson told CNN this week that a change in ownership would not affect how US user data is accessed.

“If protecting national security is the goal, divestment does not solve the problem,” TikTok spokeswoman Maureen Shanahan said in a statement. “A change of ownership would not impose new restrictions on data flows or access. National security concerns are best addressed with transparent, US-based protection of US users’ data and systems , with robust third-party tracking, verification and verification, which we are already implementing.”

TikTok is really only a national security risk to the extent that the Chinese government can have influence over TikTok or its parent company. China has national security laws that require companies under its jurisdiction to cooperate with a wide range of security activities. The main problem is that the public has few ways to verify whether or how this leverage has been exercised. (TikTok doesn’t work in China, but ByteDance does).

Privacy and security researchers who have looked under the hood of the TikTok app say that, as far as they know, TikTok is not much different from other social networks in terms of the data it collects or how it communicates with servers. the company. It’s still a lot of personally revealing information, but it doesn’t imply that the TikTok app is inherently malicious or some kind of spyware.

That’s why the concern really centers on TikTok and ByteDance’s relationship with the Chinese government, and why the Biden administration is pushing for TikTok’s Chinese owners to sell their shares.

India banned TikTok in the summer of 2020, following a violent border standoff between the country and China, in a move that abruptly disconnected the more than 200 million users the app had amassed there.

Although they have not banned the app from personal devices, several countries, including the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, have recently enacted a ban on TikTok on official government devices.

Late last year, President Joe Biden signed legislation banning TikTok from federal government devices, and more than half of US states have enacted a similar mandate at the state level. A TikTok spokesperson slammed the ban as “little more than political theater.”

“TikTok’s ban on federal devices was passed in December without any deliberation, and unfortunately this approach has served as a model for other governments around the world,” the spokesperson added.

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