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Suggested ban on TikTok in the U.S. might affect all apps from China.

ByYasmeeta Oon

Mar 8, 2024
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Suggested ban on TikTok in the U.S. might affect all apps from China.

In a significant legislative stride, the United States Congress has put forward a bipartisan bill with the potential to redefine the digital landscape by proposing a ban on “foreign adversary controlled applications.” This move could lead to the unprecedented removal of apps originating from countries like China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran from U.S. app stores. The legislation, introduced on a Tuesday to the House of Representatives, is broad in scope but specifically targets the popular video-sharing platform TikTok, along with its Chinese parent company, ByteDance.

The proposed act, named the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, is a bold initiative aimed at fortifying U.S. national security against potential digital threats. It seeks to address the growing concerns over foreign influence and control in the tech sphere, with a special focus on TikTok due to its massive user base and alleged ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

  • Direct Naming: The act explicitly mentions TikTok and ByteDance, indicating the urgency of addressing the perceived threat they pose.
  • Definition of Control: It defines a company as being “controlled by a foreign adversary” if it is incorporated, headquartered, or primarily does business in one of the specified adversary countries, or if it is at least 20% owned by such a company.
  • Financial Penalties: For non-compliant apps, the act proposes steep fines, up to $5,000 per user, which could amass to astronomical sums given the vast user bases of these platforms.

TikTok’s popularity in the U.S. is undeniable, with its user count reaching 150 million by March of the previous year. This includes high-profile users like President Joe Biden. Under the new legislation, TikTok could face a fine upwards of $750 billion, considering its extensive user base. This figure starkly overshadows ByteDance’s valuation, underscoring the grave financial implications of non-compliance.

The legislation puts ByteDance in a precarious position, forcing it to either sell TikTok to a company deemed free from foreign adversary influence or to exit the U.S. market entirely. This move aims to sever any existing ties with foreign governments, particularly the CCP, which is accused of leveraging platforms like TikTok for surveillance and data collection.

Congressional Voices and TikTok’s Response

Leading the charge in introducing the bill were Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi and Chairman Mike Gallagher, with Krishnamoorthi asserting the critical security threats posed by TikTok’s ownership structure. Conversely, TikTok and its advocates argue that the platform operates independently of the Chinese government, emphasizing its commitment to user data security through initiatives like Project Texas.

  • Security Concerns: Legislators and co-sponsors like Congresswoman Elise Stefanik have labeled TikTok as a vehicle for CCP’s malign influence, accusing it of compromising American data security.
  • First Amendment Rights: TikTok counters by highlighting the potential infringement on the First Amendment rights of its 170 million American users, along with the economic impact on small businesses that rely on the platform.
  • Prior Bans and Legal Challenges: The article references past attempts to ban TikTok, noting the legal and constitutional hurdles encountered, such as the blocking of Montana’s TikTok ban for infringing on free speech.

While TikTok remains the bill’s primary target, its broad definition of “foreign adversary controlled applications” could encompass a wide array of apps, from social media platforms to e-commerce sites and mobile games. The bill specifies criteria such as allowing users to create profiles and share content, and having more than one million monthly active users, which could potentially include many other applications under its purview.

  • WeChat: A messaging app that has previously faced scrutiny.
  • E-commerce Platforms: Including Temu and AliExpress.
  • Mobile Games: Such as Honkai: Star Rail.

The debate over the security of Chinese tech companies versus their Western counterparts is nuanced. Critics argue that while Chinese apps may pose certain risks, U.S.-based companies like Amazon-owned Ring have also engaged in questionable data sharing practices. This points to a broader conversation about digital privacy and security that transcends national boundaries.

  • Transparency and Oversight: The need for more stringent oversight across the board to protect user data.
  • Limiting Data Exposure: Regardless of the app’s origin, users should be cautious about the amount of personal information they share online.

The introduction of the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing debate over digital sovereignty, privacy, and security. As the U.S. grapples with the challenges of regulating the digital domain, the outcomes of this legislative effort could set a precedent for how nations address the complex interplay of technology, governance, and international relations in the digital age. With stakeholders on all sides watching closely, the path forward promises to be fraught with legal, economic, and ethical considerations.

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Featured Image courtesy of Complete Music Update

Yasmeeta Oon

Just a girl trying to break into the world of journalism, constantly on the hunt for the next big story to share.