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FutureStarrWhite House Backs Senate Bill to Boost US Ability to Ban TikTok
TikTok, a popular video app, has been garnering considerable attention from policymakers recently. Its parent company ByteDance is based in China and the US government has been investigating how the Chinese firm handles user data.
Senators Mark Warner and John Thune have introduced a bipartisan bill that would grant the federal government the authority to ban tech companies with connections to foreign adversaries for national security reasons. If passed, this could provide President Biden with an important solution to his dilemma.
On Tuesday, the White House unanimously supported legislation to strengthen US authority to ban TikTok and other foreign technologies. This would grant the Commerce Department power to place restrictions on companies operating in countries considered "foreign adversaries." Senators Mark Warner (Democrat from Virginia) and John Thune (Republican from South Dakota) unveiled Restricting the Emergence of Security Threats that Risk Information and Communications Technology Act at a news conference at the Capitol.
Though it remains to be seen how the RESTRICT ACT will impact TikTok, it could prove beneficial for social media giants such as Snapchat parent Snap Inc. (SNAP), Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. (META), YouTube parent Alphabet Inc. (GOOGL) and software giant Oracle Corp.
Additionally, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo can recommend divestitures from foreign-owned firms like TikTok's parent company ByteDance that may pose threats to American national security. This could include requiring the company to sell off its platform and data assets.
Recently, congressional initiatives to ban TikTok, a Chinese video-sharing app, have gained steam. Many lawmakers expressed worry that ByteDance - TikTok's parent company - could be used by China's government to spy on American citizens and influence public opinion against America. Owned by the Chinese Communist Party, this firm has been accused of sharing user data with government agencies.
The app has a security plan that promises to safeguard its operations in the United States, yet its leadership has yet to publicly address concerns about Beijing's access to user data or control over what content users see on the platform. On March 23, Shou Zi Chew, the CEO of the company, will testify before Congress about this strategy.
Last week, a spokesperson for TikTok informed CNBC the app is working with the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to address these concerns. She noted that the fastest and most comprehensive way for them to address those issues would be for CFIUS to approve the proposed agreement they've been working on for nearly two years.
TikTok is a widely used video app with hundreds of millions of users around the world. However, recent concerns have been raised regarding its relationship to China's government and potential access to personal data from Americans.
Due to this, several legislators have introduced bills to ban TikTok from the United States. One of those measures has been supported by both the White House and other senators in Congress, garnering bipartisan support.
The Senate bill, known as RESTRICT Act, would grant the Department of Commerce new authority to ban technologies that may pose national security threats. This includes China-owned apps like TikTok and other foreign technologies from Russia, North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba.
In a statement, the White House declared its support for the bill and urged Congress to act. This sentiment was shared by more than a dozen senators who also expressed their approval of it.
According to the White House, the RESTRICT Act provides government with new tools to safeguard Americans and their information from technology linked to foreign adversaries. A bipartisan group of 12 senators led by Democratic Sen. Mark Warner - chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee - introduced this bipartisan bill on Tuesday morning.
In addition to the ban, the bill would grant the government authority to restrict certain foreign products and services from entering the U.S. These include social media companies, digital advertising platforms and online gaming services.
Legislators from both parties are pushing a bipartisan bill, contending TikTok's connection to China poses a danger to US national security and poses an existential risk to Apple and Google - the two companies which host TikTok in their app stores.
Both companies are now being pressured by the White House to remove TikTok from their stores. General Keith Alexander, NSA Director, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about his concerns over what influence TikTok has over users and what content it can omit or promote.
TikTok is one of the world's most popular apps, yet it raises concerns about data collection and privacy. With more than 1 billion users, the app collects extensive amounts of personal information on them such as their location, phone data and even social media activity.
Legislators have accused the company of sharing user data with Chinese government agencies, though it has consistently denied doing so. At a Senate hearing last September, Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas stated that their app does not share any data with the Chinese government.
Recent reporting by BuzzFeed News uncovered that TikTok's Chinese-based employees had access to American users' personal data without their consent. Citing materials from an internal audit team at ByteDance, the company's parent, the report showed the app planned on monitoring some U.S. citizens who didn't have an employment relationship with the firm.
As a result, several US lawmakers and state governors have called for TikTok to be banned from government-issued devices. As a response, the company is in negotiations with the administration to establish new security and privacy protocols that would prevent it from spying on Americans' data.
Despite these growing worries, ByteDance remains a dominant force in the US tech industry. Its ad-driven content businesses include Douyin which generates most of its income by selling in-stream advertising; Xigua which has been testing live streaming; and Toutiao, an influential news aggregator. Furthermore, ByteDance is developing various business-to-business platforms like Lark - a workplace collaboration tool.
China, ByteDance's success has put pressure on its executives to adhere to Chinese Communist Party ideology. As a result, the company had to reorganize its business unit structure and make personnel changes.
For instance, ByteDance recently hired Singaporean national Shouzi Chew as their Chief Financial Officer; he had previously served as CFO at ByteDance.
At the same time, ByteDance is diversifying its business model by launching a separate unit that manages their lucrative ad-powered content business in China. This unit, called Beijing Douyin Information Service Limited, is owned by the Chinese government which owns a share in ByteDance.
The White House is backing a Senate bill that would grant the US more authority to ban TikTok, the Chinese-owned short video social media app. If passed by an bipartisan group of senators, this measure could grant the administration new tools to restrict tech companies with connections to foreign adversaries from accessing US markets.
ByteDance's parent company, located in China, has been accused of propagating Chinese state narratives and collecting user data to control what content American users see. The company has promised not to hand over American data and instead routes its US operations through an American technology firm for stricter content moderation that's less susceptible to Chinese influence.
TikTok's operations in the US are being reviewed by CFIUS, an interagency body that assesses foreign investment for national security implications. But according to five people familiar with the matter, President Biden and his administration cannot agree on whether to require TikTok's Chinese owner to divest from its American operations.
At a recent hearing in Washington, TikTok's chief operating officer Vanessa Pappas testified that the company does not store American data in China nor promote Chinese state narratives. Nonetheless, many lawmakers from both parties have voiced worries about the app's safety and future.
Experts warn that TikTok's security risks don't end there. They could include Chinese intelligence agencies using it for surveillance or influence operations against millions of users.
Christopher Whyte, a cybersecurity expert at Virginia Commonwealth University, expressed grave concern over TikTok's technology. According to him, China could easily collect personal information through viewing patterns, geolocation and even phone numbers. This poses an immense risk.
Whyte and other cybersecurity experts warn that TikTok could be used for a number of malicious purposes, such as gathering intelligence on military secrets, critical infrastructure or corporate espionage. It could also be employed to track individuals - particularly during criminal investigations - with ease.