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Biden administration threatens a TikTok ban if its Chinese owner doesn’t sell the app

There is no clear deadline for the demand, but TikTok is expected to put up a legal fight

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The TikTok startup page is displayed on an iPhone in Ottawa, Ontario.

The TikTok startup page is displayed on an iPhone in Ottawa, Ontario, Feb. 27, 2023. On March 15, 2023, TikTok reported that the Biden administration has threatened to ban the app if ByteDance doesn’t sell the app.

Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press via Associated Press

On Wednesday sources told The Wall Street Journal — which originally reported on the matter — that the Biden administration has demanded TikTok’s Chinese owners, ByteDance, sell the app or else the U.S. will impose a ban.

The news: The Committee on Foreign Investment was the body that made the demand, the WSJ reported. The committee made a similar recommendation in 2020 as well, per Reuters.

  • NPR says that it’s unclear whether there is a hard set deadline for the U.S.’ demands, and that TikTok is likely to put up a legal battle to dispute the move.
  • The WSJ stated that the course of action is unclear from this point and that a resolution is expected to be months away.

TikTok says a sale won’t work: TikTok executives have said that “60% of ByteDance shares are owned by global investors, 20% by employees, and 20% by its founders, though the founders’ shares carry outsize voting rights,” per the WSJ.

  • A spokeswoman for TikTok, Brooke Overwetter said in a statement that selling TikTok would not address the U.S.’ security concerns.
  • “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,” Oberwetter said, via the WSJ
  • “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,” Oberwetter said.

Project Texas: Concerns over TikTok’s interference with the United States’ national security aren’t new. Members of the government have been trying to do away with the short-form video app for years, most notably when former President Donald Trump tried to ban TikTok in 2020, but the move was shut down in court.

  • In response to years of legal pushback from the U.S., TikTok has unveiled Project Texas — a $1.5 billion plan dedicated to safeguarding the data of U.S. users, according to NPR.
  • When Oberwetter was referring to TikTok using third parties to protect data, she was referencing the project, which relies on the data supervision of Oracle, a Texas-based company.
  • Oracle’s data supervision “includes independent monitors and auditors to ensure that neither corporate owner ByteDance, nor Chinese officials, would be able to access U.S. user data,” NPR reported.

A look back: Despite TikTok’s precautions, there is a Chinese national security law that requires companies to turn over data upon the government’s request, according to the WSJ.

  • “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,” said U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, per the WSJ.
  • Other senior U.S. officials have been forthright about their opposition and concerns relating to TikTok, with FBI Director Chris Wray stating that the app “screams” of national security concerns, according to Deseret reporting.
  • Last week a group of U.S. senators proposed legislation that would make it easier for the U.S. to ban TikTok, according to Deseret News. Reuters reported that the White House has gotten behind the proposal.