Will TikTok be banned in US – and could same thing happen here?

By John Mercury March 14, 2024

The US has moved a step closer to banning TikTok with a vote in the House of Representatives. 

The House has passed a bill that would lead to the app being banned in the US if its Chinese owner does not sell.

The legislation will now go to the Senate.

But how would a ban work, what would it mean for users – and could something similar happen in the UK?

What would the bill mean?

The bill would require the Chinese company ByteDance to sell its stake in the US version of TikTok or the app would be effectively banned.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the goal is ending Chinese ownership – not banning TikTok.

But it is unclear if China would approve any sale or if it could go ahead within six months.

There’s also a question mark over who would buy it – although if the legislation is passed, it could make the sale price cheaper.

“Somebody would have to actually be ready to shell out the large amount of money that this product and system is worth,” said Stanford University researcher Graham Webster, who studies Chinese technology policy and US-China relations.

“But even if somebody has deep enough pockets and is ready to go into negotiating to purchase, this sort of matchmaking on acquisitions is not quick.”

What would it mean for users?

The app is used by about 170 million Americans.

If it is banned, it would be removed from app stores including Apple and Google, and blocked on web hosting services.

This would remain in place until ByteDance sold TikTok.

However, it is likely users could still access the app using virtual private networks (VPNs) that bypass restrictions, according to telecom analyst Roger Entner.

Politicians and TikTok creators speak out against the proposed bill on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Pic: Reuters
Politicians and TikTok creators speak out against the bill on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Pic: Reuters

Why is the US worried about TikTok?

Both the FBI and Federal Communications Commission have warned that TikTok owner ByteDance could share user data, such as browsing history, location and biometric identifiers, with China’s authoritarian government.

TikTok said it has never done that and would not do so if asked.

The worry stems from a set of Chinese national security laws that compel organisations to help with intelligence gathering.

The US director of national intelligence has also said she “cannot rule out” that China would use TikTok to influence US elections.

What happens after the vote?

President Joe Biden has said he would sign legislation banning the app. “If they pass it, I’ll sign it,” he told reporters.

That is despite his 2024 campaign officially joining TikTok last month.

Any forced TikTok divestment from the US would almost certainly face legal challenges, which the company would need to file within 165 days of the bill being signed by the president.

In November, a US judge blocked a Montana state ban on TikTok use after the company sued.

A ban is also likely to face challenges on the grounds it restricts the right to free speech, with civil liberties groups arguing it infringes on the First Amendment.

The passage of the bill could also change depending on the outcome of the November election.

Despite Donald Trump vowing to ban the app in 2020 on national security grounds – with his administration brokering a deal that would have had US corporations Oracle and Walmart take a large stake in TikTok – the presidential hopeful no longer supports a ban.

Read more from Sky News:
Ofcom investigates TikTok over parental controls
Nepal bans TikTok over claims it disrupts ‘social harmony’

Could something similar happen in the UK?

TikTok has not faced a nationwide ban in the UK, but in March 2023 it was banned from government devices.

This came after a review found there “could” be a risk to how data and information is used by the app.

Oliver Dowden said while TikTok use was “limited”, banning it was good cyber “hygiene”.

However, he stressed the government was not advising people against using TikTok in a personal capacity.

He told MPs: “This ban applies to government corporate devices within ministerial and non-ministerial departments, but it will not extend to personal devices for government employees or ministers or the general public.

“That is because, as I have outlined, this is a proportionate move based on a specific risk with government devices.”

The cabinet office said the move was taken because TikTok users are required to hand over data including contacts, user content and geolocation data.

What has TikTok said about the US bill?

TikTok urged senators to listen to their constituents before taking any action on the bill, which it said amounted to a ban.

A TikTok spokesperson said: “This process was secret and the bill was jammed through for one reason: It’s a ban.

“We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realise the impact on the economy, seven million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service.”

TikTok has also pointed out that there is no Chinese state ownership within ByteDance or representation on its board.

Crucially, it says it is incorporated outside of China – a fact that seeks to distance TikTok and ByteDance from coming under the influence of the Chinese intelligence law on information-sharing.


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