Technology

TikTok Is Facing Its Greatest Threat Yet

Written by teobrito.com

On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill that would force TikTok’s owner, Bytedance, to sell off the app or face an outright ban.

The bill, called the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, was sponsored by a group of nearly two dozen Republicans and Democrats. It was introduced last week and advanced out of committee at lightning speed by a unanimous vote. The bill would make it unlawful for apps controlled by companies based in adversarial countries—Bytedance is located in China—to be distributed nationwide. If enacted, Bytedance would be required to sell off TikTok if the company wanted the app to remain available in the US.

Congress has tried and failed to ban TikTok over the past few years, but this is the closest it’s gotten to making it a reality. Still, the politics of a ban have never been hazier. While bills regulating US-based tech companies have largely stalled out, this TikTok ban is on its way to the floor.

In January, President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign joined TikTok, despite the app’s alleged risks to national security. Still, Biden has said that he’ll sign the bill if it makes it through the Senate. On the other hand, former president Donald Trump is pushing lawmakers against the bill even though his administration tried to ban the app several times. “If you get rid of TikTok, Facebook and Zuckerschmuck will double their business,” Trump posted to Truth Social last week. “I don’t want Facebook, who cheated in the last Election, doing better. They are a true Enemy of the People!”

Last year, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified to the House Energy and Commerce Committee in his company’s first appearance on Capitol Hill. Chew was grilled on a number of issues, including child safety and the national security risks TikTok is said to pose for American users. Shortly after the hearing, Virginia senator Mark Warner introduced the RESTRICT Act, which would have allowed the secretary of commerce to bar foreign technologies and companies from operating in the US on national security grounds. Support for that bill waned over constitutional concerns that it would provide the executive branch too much authority.

The current House Republican bill tries to avoid similar constitutional problems. Specifically, it creates a process for the bill’s rules to apply to other foreign-controlled companies, despite its explicit naming of Bytedance. Companies would have 165 days to divest their apps before being removed from US app stores. In January, Chew testified for a second time with other Big Tech CEOs, like Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg, for a hearing on child safety.

Responding to the bill, a TikTok spokesperson told WIRED, “This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States. The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country.”

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