In recent days, the backlash against China-owned TikTok in the U.S. and other Western countries has gotten worse. Some U.S. lawmakers have been pushing for President Joe Biden to be able to ban the app for all users. The European Union banned TikTok on government-owned phones last week, and Canada did the same thing on Monday.
TikTok has more than 100 million monthly active users in the U.S., and government officials are paying more attention to it because they are worried that user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government and that China could use the app to spread false information.
Some experts and civil rights advocates say that the fight to ban TikTok could put too many limits on free speech and private business, similar to the kind of censorship that some Western countries have criticized China for.
Here’s what you need to know about why TikTok is being banned and whether or not the government will eventually make it so that regular people can’t use it:
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ACLU posted a video:
A ban on TikTok would violate the First Amendment rights of millions of Americans who use the app to express themselves daily. pic.twitter.com/rCvCTMOza7
— ACLU (@ACLU) February 27, 2023
Why Is TikTok Being Banned? A Look at the Controversy
The main reason why officials want to ban TikTok is that they are worried about data security. They are especially worried that user data could end up in the hands of the Chinese government.
Aynne Kokas, a professor of media studies and the director of the East Asia Center at the University of Virginia, told ABC News that these worries are about both the possible risks to U.S. national security and the business advantages that Chinese companies that could get access to the information would have.
“There are significant national security concerns about Chinese firms that are gathering data in the U.S. and what they can do with that,” Kokas said. “TikTok has a lot of users.”
Earlier this month, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said that companies that do business in China must follow laws that require them to share data with the government.
“The bottom line is China has been quite clear that they are trying to mold and put forward the use and norms around technologies that privilege their interests,” she said. “There’s a reason we need to be very concerned.”
Some officials are also worried that the Chinese government could use TikTok to spread false information, which could change the way people talk about politics and the results of elections.
“There are concerns about the lack of algorithmic transparency on TikTok and the potential for mis- and disinformation,” Kokas said.
Which countries have banned TikTok?
TikTok is limited in many countries. India banned TikTok and dozens of other Chinese apps outright in 2020, citing concerns about data privacy and national security. All TikTok users were temporarily banned in Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan because of the spread of content that government officials thought was inappropriate.
Some countries have banned TikTok on government-owned devices, just like the U.S. Canada and the European Union have done this in the past few days. Last year, the app was also banned from government devices in Taiwan.
In response to the bans on government devices, TikTok told ABC News in a statement,
“We appreciate that some governments have wisely chosen not to implement such bans due to a lack of evidence that there is any such need, but it’s disappointing to see that other government bodies and institutions are banning TikTok on employee devices with no deliberation or evidence.”
In response to the bans on government devices, TikTok told ABC News in a statement, “We appreciate that some governments have wisely chosen not to implement such bans due to a lack of evidence that there is any such need, but it’s disappointing to see that other government bodies and institutions are banning TikTok on employee devices with no deliberation or evidence.”
“We share a common goal with governments that are concerned about user privacy, but these bans are misguided and do nothing to further privacy or security,” the company said.
Is the U.S. Ready to Say Goodbye to TikTok?
So far, the only restrictions on TikTok in the U.S. at the state and federal levels have been to ban the app from government-owned devices. No other bans have been put in place as of yet.
“There’s a huge amount of logic for government-device bans,” Kokas said. “It doesn’t fall victim to the same conversations about free speech because these are government-owned devices.”
The Biden administration said on Monday that it is giving federal agencies 30 days to make sure that TikTok is not on any federal devices.
“We’ll continue to look at other actions that we can take,” Olivia Dalton, the White House principal deputy press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday. “That includes how to work with Congress on this issue further.”
TikTok told ABC News in response to the U.S. ban on the app on government-issued devices:
“The ban of TikTok on federal devices was passed in December without any deliberation, and unfortunately that approach has served as a blueprint for other world governments. These bans are little more than political theater.”
“We hope that when it comes to addressing national security concerns about TikTok beyond government devices, Congress will explore solutions that won’t have the effect of censoring the voices of millions of Americans,” the company said.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee said last month that TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew will talk about the company’s data security practices in March.
More than half of the states in the U.S. have taken steps toward banning TikTok on government devices, either partially or completely.
But some lawmakers and advocates have tried to make the ban apply to everyone in the U.S. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is thinking about a bill that would give Vice President Biden more power to ban the app TikTok.
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States has been looking into TikTok for years. This could lead to a ban on the app or a forced sale of the company’s U.S. business.
Experts told ABC News that a full ban in the U.S. is still not likely, even though lawmakers are pushing for it. Using the big changes that would have to be made in the private sector as an example. They also said that if such a thing happened, it would be challenged in court.
Anupam Chander, a professor of law and technology at Georgetown University, told ABC News.
“I’m skeptical that a ban would survive constitutional scrutiny in the U.S.,” “Because we have a First Amendment right to receive information, even information from adversary countries.”
In a letter sent to federal lawmakers on Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union said it did not agree with a full ban on TikTok.
Jenna Leventoff, a senior policy counsel at the ACLU, said,
“Congress must not censor entire platforms and strip Americans of their constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression,”