Amid all the changes at X, Meta, etc., what the heck is going on with TikTok and the proposed ban of the app?
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) is still ruling on the app’s future in the U.S., as it weighs concerns about its Chinese ownership, and its potential links to the CCP. But it’s been assessing this for years now, as it takes in various considerations and concerns, and examines the potential for U.S. user data to be misused by foreign groups.
At one point, a ban seemed virtually inevitable, but the issue has seemingly quietened down in recent months, though TikTok remains a point of contention in several other regions.
This week, Senegalese authorities moved to block TikTok in the nation, due to concerns that the app is helping to fuel political dissent, and threaten the stability of the country.
Senegalese authorities claim that TikTok is the social network favored by ‘people with bad intentions’ who are spreading ‘hateful and subversive messages’ via video clips. The ban isn’t associated with broader concerns about Chinese interference, as such, but it’s another concern for the platform, in that it associates its use with negative social behavior.
In Australia, however, the app’s Chinese links are in focus, with Australian senators handing down a new report into the use of social media as a means of foreign interference, which identifies both TikTok and WeChat as significant security risks.
On the back of this, the senators have proposed new legislation which would require foreign-owned apps seeking to operate in the region to set up a ‘local outpost’, in order to ensure that nation’s requirements can be legally enforced. The proposal also notes that current bans of TikTok on government devices should be extended to contractors working on government projects.
The new legislation would more effectively separate data concerns, by ensuring a local management entity for each app, though it could also see companies subject to a broader set of regional tax obligations, which they’ll no doubt oppose in an effort to reduce costs.
But it could be something of a solution to concerns around TikTok, and other foreign-owned apps. TikTok has proposed a similar, yet more extreme (and costly) approach in the U.S., which would see U.S. user data stored and managed in the nation, aligning with regulatory concerns.
In a statement, TikTok has said that it doesn’t agree with every element of the new Australian proposal, though it is glad that Australian authorities are not pushing for a full ban of the app.
Which, in itself, is an interesting summary of where TikTok is placed, as more regulators consider their position on the app, and the risks that it may pose, in weighing up its future presence.
European Parliament is also pushing for all national governments to ban the use of TikTok for government staff (TikTok has already been banned from all EU staff devices), as concerns linger over its potential dangers, and how it could be used as a regional surveillance device.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is set to consider an alternative proposal for tackling national security concerns posed by foreign-linked apps. Senator Maria Cantwell is reportedly drafting a new bill that ‘would strike a better balance between giving the White House more tools while creating new oversight mechanisms’. That could also have an impact on TikTok’s fate in the U.S., if indeed such a change were to be implemented before CFIUS comes out with its ruling.
Which seems increasingly likely, given the amount of time it’s taken to assess a potential TikTok ban thus far. But really, it feels like we’re another incident away. It feels like U.S. lawmakers are hesitant to react, and spark more angst with China, but if one more Chinese spy balloon gets shot down in U.S. airspace, it’ll be forced to take more definitive action.
Maybe that’s what we’re waiting for, for a true incident of impetus to force their hand.
But as of right now, TikTok remains available in the U.S., and the debate around the app seems to have been sidelined, despite the app continuing to prompt concern in other regions.