The Future of TikTok in America: Ban or Share Spinoff?
TikTok has continued to stir controversy amongst US government officials, as it has remained at the forefront of national security concerns. Last month, the Biden administration announced a plan to ban the site entirely in the United States if TikTok’s parent company did not spin off its shares on the app.
TikTok is owned by ByteDance – a technology and entertainment brand based in China. The app’s offices are found within the USA as well as abroad, however, Chinese national security laws could potentially force the company to share personal information on American users. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) – an American multiagency panel composed of the Departments of Treasury, Justice, Homeland Security, Defense and Commerce, and more – initiated the proposal to address such concerns held by the US government. After years of negotiation, the Biden administration grew frustrated and issued this harsh ultimatum through the committee. Specifically, they demanded that “the app’s China-based owners [either] divest their stakes or risk a TikTok ban.”
TikTok and China’s Response
Maureen Shanahan, a representative of the company, noted that “if protecting national security is the objective, divestment doesn’t solve the problem.” She further maintained that “the best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent US-based protection of US user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting, and verification, which [the company is] already implementing.” Shanahan insisted that the ultimatum was unnecessary in the first place and that TikTok was already adequately responding to said allegations. Additionally, China expressed that “the United States was ‘unreasonably suppressing’ TikTok and spreading ‘false information’ about data security.” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs member Wang Wenbin also attempted to refute CFIUS and the Biden administration’s claims, asserting that “the US side has so far failed to produce evidence that TikTok threatens US national security.” He felt as though these accusations unfairly painted TikTok and even China in a negative light and were not supported by any tangible proof.
TikTok CEO Testifies Before Congress
A week after this proposition was announced, TikTok’s CEO Shou Zi Chew spoke in front of Congress on March 23, 2023. During the hearing, Chew corroborated previous TikTok spokespeople’s sentiments, reassuring users that minors’ safety and “unauthorized foreign access” of American user data by the Chinese government were not issues associated with the app. Chew admitted he understood “concerns stemming from the inaccurate belief that TikTok’s corporate structure makes it beholden to the Chinese government,” but he insisted “this [was] emphatically untrue.” Further, he maintained that “ByteDance is not an agent of China or any other country.” Chew also stated that China never asked for any USA user information and that TikTok would not comply even if this was requested.
As of now, no permanent action has been taken by the US, but lobbyists and politicians on both sides of the bench continue to argue about the nation’s best course of action regarding TikTok and its rise to popularity.