TikTok ban proposed in U.S. could impact all Chinese apps
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TikTok ban proposed in U.S. could impact all Chinese apps


The U.S. is trying to ban TikTok again — as well as potentially all Chinese apps. Let’s see if it works out for ’em.

A new bipartisan bill introduced to the House of Representatives on Tuesday aims to ban “foreign adversary controlled applications,” potentially removing apps based in China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran from U.S. app stores. Though wide-reaching, the proposed act’s primary purpose is specifically to target video sharing app TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance, and even directly refers to both by name.

“So long as it is owned by ByteDance and thus required to collaborate with the [Chinese Communist Party], TikTok poses critical threats to our national security,” said Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, who introduced the bill alongside Chairman Mike Gallagher. 

If passed, the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act could impose fines of up to $5,000 per user on apps that continue operating within the U.S. under a foreign adversary’s control. The bill considers a company “controlled by a foreign adversary” if it’s incorporated, headquartered, or primarily does business in China, North Korea, Russia, or Iran, or if it’s at least 20 percent owned by such a company.

TikTok had 150 million U.S. users as of March last year (now including President Joe Biden), meaning it could rack up a potential fine of around $750 billion — over three times ByteDance’s October valuation.

Apps affected by this legislation would only be able to continue operating in the U.S. if they divested of foreign adversary control. This means that, if the bill passes, ByteDance would either have to sell TikTok to a company that the President considers free of such influence, or exit the U.S. altogether.

“TikTok is Communist Chinese malware that is poisoning the minds of our next generation and giving the CCP unfettered access to troves of Americans’ data,” claimed Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, in a press statement.

Mashable has reached out to the Select Committee on the CCP for comment.

‘An outright ban of TikTok’

In this photo illustration, a TikTok logo is seen displayed on a smartphone screen.


Credit: Pavlo Gonchar / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

TikTok has consistently maintained that while its origins are in China, it’s independent of the Chinese government, hasn’t provided any Americans’ data to such authorities, and wouldn’t do so if asked. Unfortunately for ByteDance, this has done little to alleviate U.S. lawmakers’ apprehension about it, nor their attempts to block the app.

Multiple bans have been proposed against TikTok as far back as 2019, though they have been largely unsuccessful. Most recently, Montana’s TikTok ban was blocked in December after a judge ruled it unconstitutional, finding that it curtailed free speech and unilaterally punished the company without affording it a trial.

“This bill is an outright ban of TikTok, no matter how much the authors try to disguise it,” TikTok said in a statement about the new proposed law. “This legislation will trample the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans and deprive 5 million small businesses of a platform they rely on to grow and create jobs.”

A TikTok spokesperson directed Mashable back to this statement when reached for further comment.

Outright banning TikTok seems like a fearful and heavy handed overreaction, though this doesn’t mean there aren’t real security concerns about the app. In 2022, ByteDance’s own internal investigation found that four employees in China had improperly accessed TikTok data belonging to two U.S. journalists. TikTok addressed this by investing $1.5 billion and 2,000 employees into Project Texas, an initiative to wall off American users’ data and store it with American company Oracle in the U.S.

“Even if the Chinese government were to request U.S. user data, [once Project Texas is fully implemented] it would not be possible for TikTok or ByteDance to comply,” reads TikTok’s U.S. Data Security website.

Commentators have also raised concerns regarding Chinese authorities’ seemingly harsh and opaque treatment of prominent local business executives “for not toeing the party line” per The Hill, stoking speculation that such issues may cause TikTok to bow to governmental pressure. Even so, it’s poor justification for singling out the video sharing app, as this potential pressure could theoretically be faced by all Chinese corporations.

A ban on all Chinese apps?

In this photo illustration, the WeChat app is displayed in the App Store on an iPhone.


Credit: Sheldon Cooper / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

It’s unclear why U.S. lawmakers appear to believe TikTok has more significant and concerning ties to the Chinese government than other popular apps based in China. Though the U.S. abandoned an attempt to ban Chinese messaging app WeChat in 2021, the government has continued to closely scrutinise TikTok for years.

Still, Tuesday’s proposed bill could potentially impact all Chinese apps in one fell swoop, possibly including WeChat, shopping apps Temu and AliExpress, and even popular mobile game Honkai: Star Rail. Considering the bill’s wide definition of foreign adversary control, all of these apps may get swept up in the ban and be forced to exit the U.S. market en masse.

Fortunately, the bill does place some limitations on which apps it impacts. While it doesn’t specifically use the words “social media,” the legislation does state that it only applies to apps that allow users to create a profile to share content such as text, videos, or images to other users. It must also have more than one million monthly active users. One could argue that commerce sites and video games do technically fit this description, while messaging apps like WeChat would certainly fall under its remit. We’ll just have to wait and see exactly how strictly the legislation is applied.

Chinese tech companies aren’t inherently less secure than organisations in other countries. Amazon-owned Ring has even provided users’ data to U.S. law enforcement without a warrant (though there hasn’t been the same uproar over American government surveillance that there has been about the Chinese government potentially doing so).

However, it’s also prudent to remember that Chinese apps aren’t inherently more secure either. No matter where your tech comes from, it’s always a good idea to limit how much information you give out — at least, as much as you can.

UPDATE: Mar. 7, 2024, 9:40 a.m. AEDT This article has been updated with comment from TikTok.





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