TikTok is back on the chopping block as House passes new security law - The UpStream

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TikTok is back on the chopping block as House passes new security law

posted Saturday Mar 16, 2024 by Scott Ertz

After a few years of silence, the US government once again has its sights set on TikTok and its Chinese-owned parent company ByteDance. Following a security briefing, the US House of Representatives quickly submitted and passed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act. This bill, if passed in the Senate and signed by the President, would start a 60-day timer for ByteDance to divest its ownership in TikTok or face an outright ban in the country.

Security concerns with TikTok

TikTok, like any other social media platform, has its share of security concerns. One of the primary concerns is data privacy. The app collects a vast amount of data on its users, including videos watched and commented on, location data, device type, and even the rhythm of keystrokes when users type. This extensive data collection has raised concerns about how this information is used and who has access to it, especially considering that TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, is based in China, a country known for its strict internet surveillance.

Another significant security concern is the potential for inappropriate content and contact with strangers. Despite having community guidelines, the platform has been criticized for its inability to effectively filter out inappropriate content, making it potentially unsafe for younger audiences. Furthermore, the app's "For You" algorithm, which suggests content based on user behavior, can inadvertently expose users to harmful or explicit material. Additionally, the platform's direct messaging feature can potentially expose users, particularly minors, to unwanted contact from strangers. These issues highlight the need for robust security measures and parental controls within the app.

Others have suggested, based on the app's behavior in the United States versus its behavior in China, that the company might be using it to actively cause harm to the US, its citizens, and the overall cultural harmony. One example that is often cited is the behaviors around gender roles. In China, the version of TikTok will not allow a man to act effeminately in a video, while in the West, the platform has been used regularly to talk about and spread information about transgenderism.

Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act

Following a security briefing on the subject, the House quickly submitted and passed the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act. While not said explicitly, it has been surmised that there was some critical high-level security information raised about the platform, its ownership, or its behaviors. The assessment is a reasonable one given the quick turn in positions, and the bipartisan nature of the support.

People like Dan Crenshaw and Rand Paul both opposed the bill in a consistent manner with their general beliefs that the government should not meddle in the markets. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez also opposed the bill, though without solid explanation. However, Representatives from both parties, and those with highly opposing political leanings, supported the bill, including Nancy Pelosi and Lauren Boebert, who would have to try to be more different.

In addition, this is not the first time the US has tried to ban the platform. Donald Trump, while President, tried to accomplish the same thing through Executive Order. The move was opposed at the time, mostly be the Democratic party. The change in sentiment is another indication that new information has been brought to light in recent weeks.

What will happen

If passed through the Senate and the President, a timer would be started that would require ByteDance to sell its shares in TikTok or face a block in the US. For its part, ByteDance leadership has said that users should protest the bill and that they are unlikely to sell. That means that the company and its Chinese ownership are looking to try to call the US government's bluff - a move that looks like it will fail.

If the platform is put up for sale, then former US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is the likely buyer. He has been assembling an investment group to make an offer as soon as the ultimatum is made official. However, it is most likely that TikTok will disappear rather than be sold.


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