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US government tells Bytedance to sell TikTok to avoid a ban

By | Published on Friday 17 March 2023


The American President is demanding that Chinese company Bytedance sell its TikTok business to an entity outside of China otherwise use of the video sharing app could be banned within the US. And if that sounds familiar, that’s because Joe Biden’s government is now basically making the same demand and threat as Donald Trump did back in 2020.

This is all part of ongoing concerns among the political community in the US and elsewhere that the Chinese government has access to TikTok users and user-data via China-based Bytedance.

Trump’s attempt to ban use of TikTok in the US was challenged in the American courts and therefore never went into effect. Biden than cancelled Trump’s ban when he took office, even though concerns about TikTok data are shared by Democrats and Republicans alike.

More recently there have been proposals in US Congress to amend the law to make it easier for the President to ban foreign owned apps which are deemed a threat to national security, potentially making it harder for a future TikTok to be challenged in court. And the White House confirmed its support of the most recent proposals to that effect in Congress.

Talks have been ongoing between TikTok and US officials ever since Trump’s attempt at a ban. Although it was proposed that Bytedance sell TikTok – or at least TikTok US – back then as well, the tech firm itself has been pushing for a compromise where American companies take a key role in its American operations, in particular Oracle.

However, despite those ongoing talks, according to the Wall Street Journal the Committee On Foreign Investment In The US, which sits under the US Treasury Department, has now told Bytedance that it should sell TikTok in order to avoid a possible ban.

TikTok continues to deny there are issues around data security on its platform, while arguing that its proposed compromise – in particular the Oracle alliance – addresses the concerns expressed by politicians within the US.

“If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem”, TikTok spokesperson Maureen Shanahan said yesterday. “The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, US-based protection of US user-data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing”.

Beyond the US, more governments have announced restrictions on the use of TikTok by lawmakers and officials on their work devices because of the security concerns. Such restrictions have previously been announced in the US, EU and Canada. And yesterday similar restrictions were put in place in the UK and New Zealand.

In the UK, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden confirmed that ministers and civil servants are banned from using TikTok on work devices “with immediate effect” following a review by government cybersecurity experts that began in November.

And in New Zealand, the ban relates to any devices that have access to the country’s parliamentary networks and goes into effect at the end of the month.