US Senate’s move to ban is the latest reprisal against TikTok

The news: The US Senate passed legislation last week to ban ByteDance’s popular TikTok app from US government devices. It’s the latest and most concrete pushback against the app, per Insider.

A Senate united: The Senate unanimously voted to approve the No TikTok on Government Devices Act, a bill authored by Sen. Josh Hawley.

  • The bill still has to pass in the House and be signed by President Biden before it becomes law. 
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi supports the inclusion of language banning TikTok on government devices in the omnibus spending bill she hopes to pass by the end of next week.
  • The proposed ban forbids the installation and use of the short-form video app on government devices, including smartphones, tablets, and PCs.
  • A TikTok spokesperson said in a statement that the proposal “does nothing to advance US national security interests.” 
  • TikTok has over a billion users worldwide and has been under scrutiny for its parent company ByteDance’s ties to the Chinese government.

Intensifying pushback: At least seven US states, the US military, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)  have banned the app.

  • TikTok and the US government have been negotiating a deal to allow the app to serve US users but concerns that the app is leaking user data to the Chinese government persist.
  • TikTok uses an American company, Oracle, to manage user data and traffic in the country but maintains various backups overseas, including in China

Banning beyond government: Continued reprisal against TikTok from US government agencies and local governments could expand into the public sector, with businesses, schools, and other organizations banning the app to safeguard user data.

  • It’s going to be increasingly difficult for ByteDance to erase any suspicion of espionage, especially as it negotiates a deal with the US government.
  • A partnership with or acquisition of TikTok by a US company or conglomerate could ease tensions and remove the bans, but earlier attempts for an acquisition reveal it to be a problematic undertaking.

The problem: A permanent US TikTok ban, while unlikely, would benefit Meta, Instagram, YouTube, Snap, and other social media outlets that have already co-opted some of TikTok’s most popular features

While TikTok’s future in the US is uncertain, the popular app may be too big to ban successfully, especially since various small businesses have thrived using the app to promote their products and services.