US authorities move a step closer to banning TikTok | Computer Weekly


The American authorities have moved a step closer to an outright national ban of often-controversial China-owned video-sharing app TikTok, following an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the US legislature.

The bill, Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, which passed by 352 to 65 votes, with 50 Democrats and 15 Republicans voting against it, could see TikTok thrown off US app stores unless its owner, ByteDance, spins it off in the near future.

The bill has not yet passed the Senate, and it is unclear if it will, but those advocating for it claim TikTok poses a national security threat on the basis that China’s strict intelligence laws could be used to snoop on users in the US.

This argument has always been rejected by ByteDance, but similar arguments were deployed against networking firm Huawei with great success in the past, and led to it being forced out of national telecoms networks in the UK at considerable expense.

The bill is well-supported among top US politicians, and president Biden has said that he will give it consideration should it make it to the Oval Office, although former president Trump, who once strongly supported a ban and almost pushed one through towards the end of his term in 2020, has now changed his tune and opposes it on the basis that banning TikTok would be good for Meta.

Commenting via X (formerly Twitter), a spokesperson for TikTok 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, 7 million small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service.”

Broader ban

The US already bans TikTok on government-owned devices and has done since 2022, while outside the US many other countries have enacted restrictions on TikTok, including the UK, which banned it from government-owned devices in March 2023, and the French followed suit shortly after.

However, given its global dominance in social media technology and policy, a ban in the US would carry significant impact worldwide.

James Mawhinney, founder of reputation management platform Media.com, said: “A nationwide ban on TikTok could have ripple effects across the broader social media ecosystem. With TikTok’s absence, users may flock to alternative platforms in search of similar content experiences, potentially amplifying the user base of competing apps.

“This influx of users could reshape the dynamics of the social media landscape, influencing trends in content creation, user engagement and platform competition. Additionally, the ban could prompt other social media companies to reevaluate their own data security practices and ties to foreign entities, as scrutiny over tech regulation intensifies.”

Cyber dimension

Previous discussion of TikTok bans has often centred cyber security concerns inherent not just to TikTok, but to other social media platforms as well. Lisa Plaggemier, executive director of US-based nonprofit The National Cybersecurity Alliance, told Computer Weekly that such concerns were well-founded.

“[This is] primarily due to the potential exploitation of its user base, and the possibility of ByteDance being able to facilitate access to their data by the Chinese government,” said Plaggemier.

“[But] beyond the immediate privacy implications, there are fears that TikTok could be leveraged as a tool for misinformation campaigns and data collection by foreign actors, particularly the Chinese government. The scale of TikTok’s user engagement, combined with China’s track record of aggressive cyber activities, raises the spectre of sophisticated cyber threats targeting … users, including surveillance, data breaches and manipulation of online discourse.”

“Moreover, TikTok’s popularity among both adults and children amplifies the potential impact of these cyber threats, as sensitive personal information could be compromised, and disinformation campaigns could spread rapidly.

“The platform’s interactive nature and extensive reach make it an attractive target for malicious actors seeking to undermine national security or advance foreign interests. As such, policymakers face the critical task of balancing the benefits of information sharing and social connectivity with the imperative to protect citizens from cyber vulnerabilities inherent in platforms like TikTok,” she said.

Tim Ward, CEO and co-founder of UK-based startup Think Cyber, added: “While the US bill to ban TikTok is driven by national security concerns, the US-China trade war component masks a bigger issue – that any non-authorised or personal tools used within a work context can present a security risk. 

“Posting company data deliberately or accidentally, reusing credentials, or even filming in an office with information visible on screens presents a risk. Banning TikTok may eliminate a small fraction of this risk, but it’s a sticking plaster on a much larger problem.

“To safeguard against threats, businesses and governments must accept that there is always a likelihood that users will access insecure platforms. Instead of focusing on banning specific technologies, the emphasis should therefore be placed on empowering people to spot red flags and stop unsafe behaviours which leave them exposed.”



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