Sounding like Trump, the Biden administration threatens a U.S. ban on TikTok

Sounding like Trump, the Biden administration threates a U.S. ban on TikTok
When it comes to short-form vertical video app TikTok, President Joe Biden's administration sounds very much like the previous administration. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Biden administration is threatening TikTok's owner that the app will be banned in the U.S. unless Chinese company ByteDance divests its interest in TikTok. The report said that The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., or CFIUS, made the demand recently.

CFIUS investigates the possible risks to the U.S. when a transaction involving a stateside firm and a foreign company is made. TikTok says that forcing ByteDance to sell its stake in TikTok will not affect the security risk that the Biden administration is worried about. 60% of ByteDance shares are owned by global investors with the remaining 40% owned 50%-50% by employees and the company's founders.

TikTok parent ByteDance proposed spending $1.5 billion to keep user data out of the hands of the Chinese government

TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter said in a statement, "If protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem: a change in ownership would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access. The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, U.S.-based protection of U.S. user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which we are already implementing."

In order to please concerned administration officials, ByteDance said that it would spend $1.5 billion to prevent personal data and content from U.S. TikTok users from falling into the clutches of the Chinese government. Under this plan, ByteDance's U.S. operations would be walled off from the rest of the firm and all data would be held in the U.S. The plan would give U.S. company Oracle access to inspect ByteDance's algorithms for U.S. inspectors.

In 2020, then President Donald Trump threatened to ban TikTok in the U.S. unless its operations in the states were sold to American-owned firms. In September of that year, Trump claimed to have a deal in place to sell the U.S. operations of TikTok to Walmart and Oracle, but that transaction never closed. TikTok went to court to block a federal ban. Trump also dropped the matter so that he could focus on the upcoming election.

The concern is that TikTok has been accused of keeping user data from U.S. subscribers and uses its in-app keyboard (on the iOS app) to record keystrokes. In addition, in China, the law requires Chinese companies to turn over customer data if requested. As a result, critics of TikTok in the U.S. say that this plan doesn't go far enough since it doesn't address the possibility that the Chinese government could demand that ByteDance turn over data collected from U.S. TikTok users.

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Biden's press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, refused to say whether Biden would ban TikTok if the bill passes and gives the president the ability to block the app in the U.S. The White House did say that it had "concerns with this particular app." Ms. Jean-Pierre added, "We want to make sure that the digital products and services Americans use every day are safe and secure."

Bipartisan legislation could allow U.S. Commerce Department to ban troubling foreign technology

Any resolution of this issue could still be months away and TikTok chief executive, Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to appear before the House Energy and Commerce Committee next week to answer questions from lawmakers. The main focus will be on the security issues that have the Biden administration anxious to ban TikTok in the U.S.

Bipartisan legislation proposed by Senator Mark Warner (D., Va.), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senator John Thune (R., S.D.), the Senate Republican whip,
would require the Commerce Department to create a process to potentially ban troubling technology from foreign countries. In a statement, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said, "This legislation would empower the United States government to prevent certain foreign governments from exploiting technology services operating in the United States in a way that poses risks to Americans' sensitive data and our national security."

Last month, in response to a question about TikTok by an interviewer, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said, "Our intelligence community has been very clear about China’s efforts and intention to mold the use of this technology using data in a worldview that is completely inconsistent with our own."

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