Mar 21, 2024 2 min read

TikTok data to be discussed in UK Parliament, as ‘be -sold-or-be-banned’ proposals continue to work their way through US Congress

The FT has spoken to British MPs about TikTok and its Chinese owner ByteDance following the passing in the US House Of Representatives of the ‘be-sold-or-be-banned’ bill. UK politicians have similar concerns about TikTok user data, and also the possible influence of China over the TikTok algorithm

TikTok data to be discussed in UK Parliament, as ‘be -sold-or-be-banned’ proposals continue to work their way through US Congress

The regulation of TikTok, and concerns over the social media app being owned by China-based ByteDance, will be discussed in the UK Parliament in the coming weeks. 

Like in US Congress, British politicians are concerned that the Chinese government has access to TikTok user data via ByteDance. But there are other concerns too. Speaking to the FT, Liam Byrne MP highlighted thealgorithms that are capable of flexing disinformation to the top of people’s news feeds in a way that is totally uncontrolled. If you’ve got an organisation that could be influenced by someone like China, that should be a matter of concern”.

The FT was speaking to Byrne, Chair of the House Of Commons Business & Trade Committee, following the passing last week by the US House Of Representatives of proposals that would give ByteDance six months to sell TikTok or face a US-wide ban. Those proposals are now being considered in the US Senate, where there have been further developments this week. 

Nothing that dramatic is likely to be proposed in the UK Parliament any time soon, though Byrne is planning on using the final phase of negotiations around the Digital Markets, Competition & Consumers Act to seek to force the UK government to at least disclose its assessment on the possibility of forcing a TikTok divestment.

And, in his interview with the FT, he also referenced the recent discussions around changing media ownership laws in the UK to stop a foreign state from buying the Telegraph newspaper. Noting OfCom research that said 10% of British adults get at least some of their news from TikTok, compared to 5% from the Telegraph, he added: “Why wouldn’t we apply the same rule to China and an app that’s twice as important to people’s news gathering in the UK?” 

Asked about what approach the UK might take to deal with the concerns around TikTok and its Chinese owner, Alicia Kearns, Chair of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said British lawmakers could look at the “designation of social media apps” under the control of foreign adversaries as “national security threats”, and/or tougher laws around data protection. 

Back in the US, Senate Commerce Committee Chair Maria Cantwell has said that she will meet with Mike Gallagher, one of the politicians that sponsored the ‘be-sold-or-be-banned’ bill that sped its way through the House Of Representatives earlier this month. Those proposals need to be passed by the Senate to actually become law and it is thought the free speech ramifications of the potential ban could cause more concern in the upper chamber of Congress. 

Members of both the Commerce and Intelligence committees in the Senate had private briefings this week from the US Department Of Justice where government officials discussed their national security concerns regarding TikTok data. 

Some Senators already seem to be broadly supportive of the measures passed by the House, though Cantwell has said that lawmakers need to ensure any proposals would hold up in the US courts if and when they are challenged by TikTok on free speech grounds.

Needless to say, TikTok - which continues to deny the Chinese government has access to its user data - is in lobbying overdrive in Washington, and elsewhere, to try to stop any proposals of forced divestment and/or bans from getting on the statute book. 

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