The Clock is Running out for TikTok

12402260857?profile=RESIZE_400xThe US House of Representatives has passed legislation that could lead to a nationwide ban on the popular video-sharing app TikTok, reigniting debates around data privacy, national security, and the limits of government oversight.  The bipartisan bill, named the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, requires the Chinese company ByteDance to divest its ownership of TikTok.  If it fails to do so, the app would be prohibited from operating in the United States, and barred from app stores and web hosting services within the country.[1]


"This is my message to TikTok: break up with the Chinese Communist Party or lose access to your American users," stated Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI), one of the bill's sponsors.  "America's foremost adversary has no business controlling a dominant media platform in the United States."  While the House vote succeeded with overwhelming support, the measure now faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where lawmakers appear divided on the legislation's merits.

Cybersecurity experts have weighed in on the potential ramifications of a TikTok ban, highlighting both concerns and potential benefits.  "A significant portion of TikTok content generation comes from outside the US, which in turn drives consumption/engagement in the U.S. and brings in the audience for businesses to target.  This is where the biggest impact will be," said the CEO at Zendata.  Pappu noted that a divestment could lead to better controls over US user data.  "With this ban, and the potential divestment that might change where the US user data is stored in US, there would also be better controls on who has access to user data and removal of potential backdoors."

The Chief Evangelist at Symmetry Systems, questioned the bill's focus on ownership rather than content moderation or data security practices.  "The narrative that this will help address the influence of hostile foreign actors in social media doesn't acknowledge that this is happening across all social media platforms regardless of the control of the app."  Symmetry also highlighted the potential impact on small businesses and content creators who rely on TikTok as a primary source of income.  "The immediate impact on cashflow could be devastating," he said.

Enforcement challenges are large, according to the Vice President of Security Operations at Ontinue.  "Even if a law exists banning the use of TikTok, enforcement would indeed be a complex issue," he said, citing difficulties in remotely uninstalling apps or monitoring usage on personal devices.  US Constitutional First Amendment concerns have also been raised, with Ontinue explaining, "Banning an app, such as TikTok, could be seen as a potential infringement on freedom of speech."

As the legislation moves to the Senate, cybersecurity professionals urge a balanced approach that prioritizes data privacy and national security while respecting digital rights and the interests of businesses and creators. "CISOs should care about these developments as they have implications for their organization's compliance with laws and regulations, data security, and even their organizational reputation," Jones added.

Former US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week he is assembling a team of investors to make a bid to buy TikTok.  This comes right after the US House passed a measure to ban the Chinese-owned social media giant or force a sale to a US-operated owner.  “It’s a great business and I’m going to put together a group to buy TikTok,” Mnuchin said in an interview last week.  Even though TikTok is likely unprofitable, “it’s worth a lot of money,” he added.

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