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US House of Representatives votes yes to forcing TikTok divestiture

Chinese company ByteDance now has 165 days to sell off TikTok – or face a total ban in the US.

user icon David Hollingworth
Thu, 14 Mar 2024
US House of Representatives votes yes to forcing TikTok divestiture
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The US House of Representatives has voted overwhelmingly in favour of a bill calling ByteDance to divest itself of the social media app TikTok or face a complete ban.

A total of 352 lawmakers voted in favour of the bill, while only 65 voted against the motion, which was fast-tracked to the House last week.

According to the bill, ByteDance must now sell or otherwise divest itself from TikTok, or it will be made illegal for the app to be hosted on app stores in the US. Lawmakers, however, insist this is not an outright ban of the app.


“TikTok could live on, and people could do whatever they want on it provided there is that separation,” said Mike Gallagher, the Republican chair of the House of Representatives’ select China committee. “It is not a ban – think of this as a surgery designed to remove the tumour and thereby save the patient in the process.”

TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, have been under increasing pressure for the last 12 months over possible Chinese Communist Party interference in the app, and the possibility of the CCP having undue influence over the app’s users.

ByteDance, for its part, feels the motion is deeply problematic.

“This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States,” a company spokesperson said. “The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country.”

The bill still needs to pass the Senate, and while the White House supports the bill, there are Democrats who see the bill as similarly challenging when it comes to First Amendment rights.

“We need curbs on social media, but we need those curbs to apply across the board,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said.

Lisa Plaggemier, executive director of the National Cybersecurity Alliance, said that while concerns over Chinese influence are warranted, the right balance still needs to be struck.

“TikTok, owned by ByteDance, presents significant cyber security concerns for the United States, primarily due to the potential exploitation of its vast user base and the Chinese company’s access to user data. Beyond the immediate privacy implications, there are fears that TikTok could be leveraged as a tool for misinformation campaigns and data collection by foreign actors, particularly the Chinese government,” Plaggemier said via email. “The scale of TikTok’s user engagement, combined with China’s track record of aggressive cyber activities, raises the spectre of sophisticated cyber threats targeting American users, including surveillance, data breaches, and manipulation of online discourse.”

“Policymakers face the critical task of balancing the benefits of information sharing and social connectivity with the imperative to protect citizens from cyber vulnerabilities inherent in platforms like TikTok. Continued investment in cyber security infrastructure and regulations is essential to mitigate these risks and uphold the integrity of digital ecosystems in an increasingly interconnected world.”

Closer to home, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the Australian government needs to show leadership on the issue.

"The Prime Minister needs to show leadership here," Dutton said, according to The Guardian. "If young people using TikTok are having their images collected, their intimate discussions, when that’s collected by a country or third party, the Prime Minister has to act.”"

"The information is being hoovered up. Young people don’t have a safe presence online. It’s up to the Prime Minister to respond in an appropriate way."

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said, however, that the government has no plans to follow suit.

"You’ve always got to have national security concerns, front and centre, but you also need to acknowledge that for a whole lot of people, this provides a way of them communicating," Albanese said during an interview on Sydney radio station WSFM.

TikTok has said that it appreciates the Australian government's position.

"Any changes to TikTok in Australia would have a significant impact on the 350,000 businesses, and more than eight-and-a-half million Australians, who use the app to connect and grow their businesses," a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement. "Action being taken in the US is not based in fact, and we are hopeful that the US Senate will consider the impact on the millions of small businesses and 170 million Americans who use the service."

UPDATED 14/3/24 to add Australian commentary.

David Hollingworth

David Hollingworth

David Hollingworth has been writing about technology for over 20 years, and has worked for a range of print and online titles in his career. He is enjoying getting to grips with cyber security, especially when it lets him talk about Lego.

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