Everything You Need to Know About the Possible TikTok Ban

TikTok, the Chinese video-sharing platform most popular with Americans aged 13 to 24, has been a source of controversy in the U.S. lately. The Federal Government has signaled privacy concerns over the app, and now President Trump is advocating for Microsoft to buy the company’s U.S. division. But while TikTok’s unfolding story is mired in controversy, it doesn’t need to be mired in confusion. To that end, here are the key details you need to know about TikTok’s past and future in America.

1. What is TikTok?

TikTok is an app that allows users to post short videos, which often involve dancing and general hijinks. TikTok, which has been available in the U.S. since August 2018, is a subsidiary of the Chinese corporation ByteDance. Zhang Yiming, a 37-year-old Chinese entrepreneur, started ByteDance. (As of this writing, Yiming has an estimated net worth of $16.2 billion.)

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2. What are the privacy concerns with TikTok?

The Federal Government and others have mainly raised concerns revolving around the potential of China’s government to use TikTok for nefarious purposes. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for example, has said that any information that “flow[s] across a Chinese server” ends up in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

3. What evidence is there the CCP influences TikTok?

In 2019, Forbes cited a Proton Technologies post saying that “[TikTok’s] parent company’s close ties to [the CCP] make it a perfect tool for massive surveillance and data collection by the Chinese government.” And while that statement is speculative, the Swiss internet privacy company did also note which personal data TikTok says it collects in its own privacy policy. These data include everything from users’ IP addresses to browsing histories to the messages they send to each other on the app.

4. Why has the President considered a TikTok ban?

At the end of July, the President told the press that “we may be banning TikTok….” Although it’s unclear why the President made the bold suggestion, the Federal Government has, as mentioned, had issues with the app for some time. Those issues escalated when the interagency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) opened a national security investigation into ByteDance at the end of 2019. CFIUS opened its investigation into ByteDance after Senator Mark Rubio lobbied Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to do so. Rubio claimed there was “ample and growing evidence” that the CCP was influencing TikTok.

5. Can the President ban TikTok?

The short answer is “yes.” Law blog Lawfare notes that while the President “has no inherent, unilateral authority” to ban a company, Congress can, and it has delegated its authority to the President. Lawfare notes that in 1998, with the Exon-Florio Amendment to the Defense Production Act, Congress granted the President the authority to prohibit “mergers, acquisitions, or takeovers” that threaten national security. And because ByteDance bought lip sync-video app Musical.ly and merged it with TikTok, this could potentially provide grounds for the President to intervene.

6. Is Microsoft going to buy TikTok?

It is still possible, and perhaps likely, that Microsoft is going to buy TikTok’s U.S. division. The tech company, which is currently valued at $1.6 trillion, announced in a recent blog post that it is “prepared to continue discussions to explore a purchase of TikTok in the United States.” Microsoft notes that if it purchases TikTok, it will own and operate the app in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand as well.

7. Can the Federal Government take a cut of TikTok’s sale?

On August 3, the President said, “I don’t mind whether it’s Microsoft or somebody else—a big company, a secure company, a very American company—buy [TikTok].” He added, “[W]hatever the price is… a substantial portion of that price is going to have to come into the Treasury of the United States because we’re making it possible for this deal to happen.”

But it’s unclear if the Federal Government actually has the authority to collect this cut of TikTok’s potential sale price. Gene Kimmelman, a former chief counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, told CNN, “It’s actually quite hard to understand what the President is actually talking about” in terms of why the government should benefit from the transaction.

8. What has been TikTok’s response?

Although Microsoft is still in talks with TikTok about a potential purchase, the latter company’s statements to the public have been ambiguous. TikTok’s U.S. General Manager, Vanessa Pappas, for example, posted the below video saying, “We’re not planning on going anywhere.” But while Pappas talked about jobs TikTok will bring to the U.S., she didn’t address the Microsoft acquisition or the President’s remarks.

TikTok’s CEO of U.S. operations, Kevin Mayer, hasn’t made definitive remarks regarding the potential acquisition by Microsoft either. Although Mayer did call out Facebook for attempting to produce a copycat of the app in a recent blog post. “TikTok has become the latest target, but we are not the enemy,” Mayer added.

Featured Image: Solen Feyissa

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