US considers total ban on TikTok for officials

The US Congress is close to approving a nationwide ban on the use of TikTok on government devices over perceived security risks – putting the hugely popular video-sharing platform in a vulnerable position over Washington’s ties to China.

After a Senate vote last week, the US House of Representatives could pass legislation this week banning the use of TikTok on officials’ work phones.

TikTok ban

The measure would follow bans in nearly 20 US states where Republicans have led the attack on TikTok, arguing that ownership of Chinese company ByteDance makes the app unsafe for Americans.

“The fundamental problem is this… TikTok is owned by ByteDance, which is effectively controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” Republican Congressman Mike Gallagher told CNN on Sunday.

But what has long been a rallying cry for conservatives is spreading among their Democratic counterparts, to the point that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday she was in favor of putting the bill to a vote this week.

“This is not a political question between Republicans and Democrats. This is a United States issue that we need to address nationally,” Ryan McDougle, a Republican senator from Virginia who has spearheaded the issue, told AFP.

Another bill, also introduced last week by officials from both parties, calls for an outright ban on TikTok in the United States, though it’s not likely to be taken up for a formal vote for now.

TikTok has worked hard to convince US authorities that it is not a threat and that US data is protected and stored on servers in the United States.

But according to media reports, it has also admitted that employees based in China had access to this data, although the company insisted it was done under strict and very limited circumstances.

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“We were not asked for such data by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). We have not provided US user data to the CCP and would not if asked to do so,” the company said in a letter to Congress.

Still, TikTok is furiously fighting to appease Washington and is pinning all its hopes on a long-term security deal with President Joe Biden’s administration, which has been under negotiation for the past two years.

This would be done by the United States Committee on Foreign Investments (CFIUS), an interagency arm of the US government that assesses the national security risks of foreign investments.

A deal would entail “a comprehensive set of measures” and “independent oversight to address concerns about the endorsement of TikTok content and access to US user data,” the company said in a statement to AFP.

The agreement would “go far beyond what any comparable company is doing today,” it added.

However, given the growing political pressure, finding common ground with the US government will be difficult, security experts said.

A deal “is going to be difficult,” said Michael Daniel, chief executive of Cyber ​​Threat Alliance, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to cybersecurity.

According to Politico, some in the Biden administration are calling for ByteDance to divest TikTok’s US operations outright, the same position held by former President Donald Trump.

‘ripple effect’

The struggle for the fate of TikTok could soon become a real problem for users once Congress passes the government ban and Biden enacts it.

“People haven’t really considered the potential domino effect that this is going to have,” said Karen Freberg, associate professor of strategic communications at the University of Louisville.

In particular, she mentioned “government contractors like Amazon” who may be asked to conform to public sector obligations.

TikTok’s main partner in the United States is Oracle, which stores American users’ data and is also a US government contractor.

And like all major social networks, TikTok derives most of its revenue from advertising.

For Rebecca Long of digital marketing agency VisualFizz, the new push against TikTok is “worrying” for advertisers.

While TikTok’s core audience of under-25s is fairly insensitive to politics, older users are “very aware” of the issues and willing to act accordingly, Long said.

Freberg warned that “TikTok will always have an asterisk next to its name and companies that work with them must always keep that in mind.”

Videos by influencers on the subject are already circulating on TikTok.

California-based Natalaya Michele is already looking ahead and, if banned, recommends using a VPN, or virtual private network, a tool that simulates connections from another country.

BryanBoy, a fashion vlogger with millions of followers, was more pessimistic: “If I were you, it would be time to learn a new skill.”

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