Two US senators will introduce new legislation this week with the goal of opening up government power to “ban or prohibit” foreign-owned tech products such as TikTok.
Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says he has bipartisan support for the bill.
It's following on the heels of another bill out from the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, which aims to give President Biden the ability to ban the video app. Plus, the Office of Management and Budget has recently published guidelines detailing how agencies could impliment a ban.
Why the New Bill Exists
Tiktok is owned by ByteDance, a private Chinese company. Many of the app's critics in the US base their concerns around fear that the private company has too close a relationship to its government. Tiktok's defense: It operates independantly, even storing its data safely with Oracle, a US-based company.
Warner, who is working on the bill with Senator John Thune, says that questionable data security is only one reason he's concerned about TikTok specifically. Here's his statement, covered by CNBC yesterday:
“They are taking data from Americans, not keeping it safe, but what worries me more with TikTok is that this can be a propaganda tool.”
According to Warner, the app's admittedly opaque algorithm could potentially be used to promote videos in China's interests. But the proposed ban could face First Amendment challenges, as Caitlin Chin, fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, explained to the New York Times:
“In democratic governments, the government can’t just ban free speech or expression without very strong and tailored grounds to do so and it’s just not clear that we have that yet,” said Ms. Chin.
Social Media and Data Security
TikTok is faced plenty of opposition from the US already: State employees across more than 20 states are banned from using the service on government-issued devices, and some universities have blocked it on their WiFi.
TikTok's algorithm has clear flaws, including a bias against queer, fat, and disabled people. While there's no hard evidence that the platform is controlled by or closely cooperates with the government of the country that it operates within, it did weather a July 2022 report accusing the platform of “excessive” levels of data harvesting.
Not for nothing, Meta and Google have recently made the news for turning over their users' chat logs and search history records to US police departments to aid them in prosecuting abortion seekers — evidence that the scope of governmental concern doesn't need to stop at foreign-owned companies.
Regardless of how the First Admendment discussion shakes out, one thing's for sure: TikTok, like any big corporation, is after its users' data and there's no harm in sharing less on social media. Thankfully, the service recently rolled out warnings to let some users know when they've been scrolling for more than an hour.