A bill to ban TikTok has been submitted to the U.S. Congress. Maria Belyaeva, an expert at the International BRICS Competition Law and Policy Centre, considers this move in the context of the ongoing technological confrontation between the United States and China.
The purpose of the bill is stated to be to protect Americans from foreign intruders who are trying to conduct surveillance, collect sensitive data, conduct propaganda campaigns and censorship through social networks. The text is published under the title "The Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship, and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party Act."
The lawmakers propose blocking and banning all transactions with social networking companies that are established in countries of concern or operate under their laws, are influenced by such countries, use software controlled by them, or are prohibited from exporting by them. Among the countries of concern are the PRC, Russia, Iran, the DPRK, Cuba, and Venezuela. Only Bytedance and its short video platform TikTok are listed by name in the text of the bill.
Similar sanctions had already been imposed by Donald Trump's executive order on TikTok (as well as WeChat), but were subsequently lifted by the Biden administration. Now a wider range of companies could fall under the new bill.
The issue of access to TikTok data has been of concern to the authorities and users for not the first year: despite the fact that the storage servers are located in Singapore and the United States, it seems that individual Bytedance employees can still gain remote access to them. Regarding European users, this fact has already been confirmed by Elaine Fox, TikTok's Head of Privacy in Europe, who pointed out that access is ensured by methods recognized by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and strict security control and approval procedures are applied in the process.
Chinese officials have protested the United States' tendency to politicize security issues and apply sanctions mechanisms, which often affect international production and supply chains. For example, in October, the White House released a National Security Strategy that identified China as "the only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to advance that objective": getting ahead of China in the competition is a global priority for the United States.
It is worth noting that China, by contrast, focuses not on suppressing competitors, but on building its own capacity and ensuring technological sovereignty. The Chinese cyberspace regulator is constantly tightening requirements for data export and storage, as well as for cybersecurity checks.
In this regard, a more equitable solution does not seem to be a point-by-point ban on suspicious applications, but rather the introduction of a stricter but universal compliance mechanism, as has been done for Chinese companies trading on American exchanges.