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What are the issues round TikTok — and why is the US threatening to ban it?

CNN  — 

Practically two-and-a-half years after the Trump administration threatened to ban TikTok in america if it didn’t divest from its Chinese language homeowners, the Biden administration is now doing the identical.

TikTok acknowledged to CNN this week that federal officers are demanding the app’s Chinese language homeowners promote their stake within the social media platform, or threat going through a US ban of the app.

The brand new directive comes from the multiagency Committee on International Funding in america (CFIUS), following years of negotiations between TikTok and the federal government physique. (CFIUS is identical group that beforehand compelled a sale of LGBTQ relationship app Grindr from Chinese language possession again in 2019.)

The ultimatum from the US authorities represents an obvious escalation in strain from Washington as extra lawmakers as soon as once more elevate nationwide safety issues concerning the app. Immediately, TikTok’s future in america seems extra unsure – however this time, it comes after years through which the app has solely broadened its attain over American tradition.

Right here’s what it’s best to know.

What are the issues round TikTok?

Some in Washington have expressed issues that the app may very well be infiltrated by the Chinese language authorities to basically spy on American customers or acquire entry to US consumer knowledge. Others have raised alarms over the chance that the Chinese language authorities may use the app to unfold propaganda to a US viewers. On the coronary heart of each is an underlying concern that any firm doing enterprise in China finally falls underneath Chinese language Communist Get together legal guidelines.

Different issues raised usually are not distinctive to TikTok, however extra broadly concerning the potential for social media platforms to guide youthful customers down dangerous rabbit holes.

Wait, didn’t all of this occur earlier than?

If this newest growth is providing you with déjà vu, that’s as a result of it echoes the saga TikTok already went by way of in america that kicked off in 2020, when the Trump administration first threatened it with a ban by way of government order if it didn’t promote itself to a US-based firm.

Oracle and Walmart have been prompt as patrons, social media creators have been in a frenzy, and TikTok kicked off a prolonged authorized battle in opposition to the US authorities. Some critics on the time blasted then-president Donald Trump’s campaign in opposition to the app as political theater rooted in xenophobia, calling out Trump’s uncommon suggestion that america ought to get a “reduce” of any deal if it compelled the app’s sale to an American agency.

A logo of ByteDance at its office in Beijing, China July 7, 2020.

The Biden administration ultimately rescinded the Trump-era government order concentrating on TikTok, however changed it with a broader directive targeted on investigating expertise linked to overseas adversaries, together with China. In the meantime, CFIUS continued negotiations to strike a doable deal that might enable the app to proceed working in america. Then scrutiny started to kick up once more in Washington.

Lawmakers renewed their scrutiny of TikTok for its ties to China by way of its guardian firm, ByteDance, after a report final 12 months prompt US consumer knowledge had been repeatedly accessed by China-based staff. TikTok has disputed the report.

What has TikTok stated?

In uncommon remarks earlier this month at a Harvard Enterprise Evaluate convention, TikTok CEO Shou Chew doubled down on the corporate’s prior commitments to handle the lawmakers’ issues.

“The Chinese language authorities has really by no means requested us for US consumer knowledge,” Chew stated, “and we’ve stated this on the file, that even when we the place requested for that, we won’t present that.” Chew added that “all US consumer knowledge is saved, by default, within the Oracle Cloud infrastructure” and “entry to that knowledge is totally managed by US personnel.”

TikTok CEO, Shou Zi Chew is interviewed at offices the company uses on Tuesday February 14, 2023 in Washington, DC.(Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As for the issues that the Chinese language authorities may use the app to spew propaganda to a US viewers, Chew emphasised that this may be dangerous for enterprise, noting that some 60% of TikTok’s homeowners are world traders. “Misinformation and propaganda has no place on our platform, and our customers don’t anticipate that,” he stated.

In response to the CFIUS divestiture request, a TikTok spokesperson informed CNN this week {that a} change in possession wouldn’t influence how US consumer knowledge is accessed.

“If defending nationwide safety is the target, divestment doesn’t clear up the issue,” TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan stated in a press release. “A change in possession wouldn’t impose any new restrictions on knowledge flows or entry. One of the simplest ways to handle issues about nationwide safety is with the clear, US-based safety of US consumer knowledge and techniques, with sturdy third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we’re already implementing.”

Is TikTok actually a menace to nationwide safety?

TikTok is absolutely solely a nationwide safety threat insofar because the Chinese language authorities might have leverage over TikTok or its guardian firm. China has nationwide safety legal guidelines that require firms underneath its jurisdiction to cooperate with a broad vary of safety actions. The principle difficulty is that the general public has few methods of verifying whether or not or how that leverage has been exercised. (TikTok doesn’t function in China, however ByteDance does.)

Privateness and safety researchers who’ve seemed underneath the hood at TikTok’s app say that, so far as they’ll inform, TikTok isn’t a lot totally different from different social networks when it comes to the info it collects or the way it communicates with firm servers. That’s nonetheless a whole lot of personally revealing data, however it doesn’t suggest that TikTok’s app itself is inherently malicious or a sort of adware.

That’s why the priority actually focuses on TikTok and ByteDance’s relationship to the Chinese language authorities, and why the Biden administration is pushing for TikTok’s Chinese language homeowners to promote their shares.

The place else has it been banned?

India banned TikTok in the summertime of 2020, following a violent border conflict between the nation and China, in a transfer that abruptly disconnected the greater than 200 million customers the app had amassed there.

Whereas stopping in need of banning the app on private gadgets, various different nations, together with america, Canada and United Kingdom have lately enacted bans of TikTok on official, authorities gadgets.

Late final 12 months, President Joe Biden signed laws prohibiting TikTok on federal authorities gadgets, and greater than half of US states have enacted an analogous mandate on the state degree. A TikTok spokesperson beforehand blasted this ban as “little greater than political theater.”

“The ban of TikTok on federal gadgets handed in December with none deliberation, and sadly that strategy has served as a blueprint for different world governments,” the spokesperson added.

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