The Biden administration has threatened to ban TikTok in the US if its parent company, ByteDance, doesn’t sell the app to an American company, reports the Wall Street Journal. US officials believe that the Chinese-owned app poses a national security risk. This is largely due to worries over China’s policy that requires companies to sell their data to the government if they request it.
This demand came after evidence that employees of TikTok spied on journalists and took their IP addresses through the app. However, the employees were later fired and there is no evidence that the Chinese government was involved. Still, NBC News writes that “U.S. intelligence officials expressed concerns that China can use TikTok to spy on Americans or influence U.S. public opinion.” The Department of Justice and the FBI are investigating.
American companies such as Youtube and WhatsApp have been banned in China for many years. Freedom House, an organization that examines democratic principles worldwide, ranks China last in internet freedom due to the large amount of censorship and surveillance. New York Times Opinion Writer Tim Wu argues a response to China’s internet censorship is long overdue. “The privilege of full internet access — the open internet — should be extended only to companies from countries that respect that openness themselves,” he writes.
But responding to China’s censorship could lead to legal troubles. When the Trump administration tried to ban Tik Tok in 2020, the bill failed after federal judges decided TikTok was not enough of a national security issue to justify a ban, reports the Washington Post. Additionally, ByteDance will almost certainly challenge a forced sale in court, and currently, TikTok is advocating for more government oversight instead of a forced sale.
Because of the popularity of the app, there will be political consequences as well. This may be dangerous for the Biden administration, especially leading up to an election year. A forced sale could be more popular than a broad ban, but that faces its own difficulties. It may be difficult to find a buyer since the app is so valuable.
So far, the Biden Administration has not issued any sort of regulation on TikTok, and there is no time limit on the forced sale. But Biden said he supports the bipartisan bill currently in Congress that would allow the federal government to regulate some foreign-owned technology, including Chinese software.