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Will Congress ban TikTok?

March 13, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act to eliminate TikTok on U.S. soil. 

This isn't the first time there has been talk of banning TikTok in the U.S., so what’s different about this time?

This bill targets the app's parent company, ByteDance, based in China. In 2017, the company acquired the app and merged it with TikTok. Since then, TikTok has exploded internationally, with over one billion users. 

The app recently came under intense scrutiny after it was revealed that third parties were tracking its users' data. Additionally, users were being tracked even after they left the app and opted out of data tracking. 

Alongside this, the app is not clear about where the data goes or how much data is being collected and tracked. For now, though, it is known that the app collects information about users' locations, IP addresses and messages. The app's U.S. privacy policy also states that it may collect biometric information, such as facial or vocal information. 

Data collection has become a target for the U.S. government, as there is uncertainty about where much of the third-party information is being stored and how it is being used.

The first attempt to address these issues was in 2020; former President Donald Trump tried to ban TikTok via an executive order. After this, there was a push to sell the app to Microsoft, which did not work out. In the end, TikTok struck a deal with the software company Oracle Corp. U.S. users' information, which would now be stored on their servers, without ByteDance having access to it, addressed the government’s regulatory concerns.

In late 2022, President Joe Biden banned the app from government devices. However, it is worth noting that the Biden campaign recently joined Tiktok this February to appeal to younger voters. 

In March 2023, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced nearly five hours of questioning in a hearing with the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee. The Singaporean businessman was interrogated about Chinese government involvement with the app, to which he stated that the app was "free from any manipulation from any government." However, this was met with skepticism from members of Congress. 

Then, in late 2023, Montana became the first state to attempt to ban TikTok. The bill, however, was blocked by federal judges, as it was deemed to be against the First Amendment and an overstep of state power. 

This leads us to 2024. A growing number of lawmakers are calling for action against TikTok. Many favor divestment from its parent company, Bytedance. However, no seller has been identified, and Chinese officials have met the calls for divestment with pushback, as they do not want to sell the success. If a seller cannot be found, a ban may be implemented.

The congressional bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in a 352-65-1 vote. It is now making its way into the U.S. Senate, where its path is much less clear, as lawmakers stated they would need to review the bill more before voting. 

The future of the app depends on how the U.S. government would go about banning it. Some speculate that it may be removed from app stores, stopping new users from joining the app while current users would maintain access. For now, the existence of TikTok in the U.S. is still up in the air.


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