TikTok Ban in the U.S: Everything You Need to Know

The wildly popular short-form video app with more than 100+ million US consumers and creators, TikTok, has been recently trending, but not for the right reasons. American officials have been warning for years about TikTok’s risks, but no measures have been taken to address these issues. The US government has been given the authority to try to ban the app, but will they manage it? Here is all you need to know about the US TikTok ban.

How It All Started 

TikTok is owned by a Chinese Internet company called ByteDance. The platform is a big part of brand’s acquisition strategy, with 2023 seeing consumers spend a little more dollars above $10 billion. But with such high revenue, how did TikTok get itself where it is today, on the verge of being banned?

July 2020

People began saying the US might ban TikTok since Washington was concerned that the Chinese wanted to control an app used by most Americans. At this time, TikTok was trying to be sold to a company in the US.

A CEO from America, who used to work at Disney, was chosen to ensure that none of TikTok’s data is stored in China. Also, this move was to ensure TikTok’s operations were separated from those of its owners.

Making this move was not hard as TikTok started as an American company called Musical.ly, which ByteDance later bought in 2017.

August 2020

Former US President Donald Trump signed a rule to ban Tiktok if the app is not sold to a non-Chinese company in 45 days. Investors like Oracle started biding to purchase TikTok’s operations in the US.

September 2020

TikTok asked the court to stop the ban, leading to its stalling.

December 2020

A judge blocked Trump’s move to ban TikTok. The lawmakers cite Trump’s proposed ban as “arbitrary.” They also ruled that his proposed ban didn’t have another reasonable plan before suggesting the scrapping of the platform.

June 2021

The US had a new president, Joe Biden, whose administration officially dropped Trump’s attempts to ban TikTok. Rather than banning, his administration called for checks on TikTok and other apps for security issues. Biden’s goal was to take an approach based on evidence.

June 2022

TikTok moved its data to Oracle’s servers, which are based in the US. Before this, user data was stored in TikTok’s data centers in Virginia, the US. The server had its backup in Singapore. Around this time, there were rumors that the government in China could have US data, but TikTok denied the claims.

December 8, 2022

TikTok has implemented new security plans and announced a Trust and Safety Team in the United States to safeguard the privacy and information of its users.

December 22, 2022

A global media company, Forbes, released a report with findings from an internal investigation by Bytedance, which owns TikTok. According to the investigation, employees tracked several journalists reporting on the company. This means the employees gained access to the journalists’ location addresses and user information to determine if they were in the same locality as ByteDance’s employees. In return, lawmakers suggested a bipartisan law to back a ban on TikTok from federal devices.

December 27, 2022

Lawmakers’ mobile devices have TikTok banned. The app is also banned from staff mobile devices, including US House of Representatives staff.

December 30, 2022

The previous ban has been revised, and TikTok is now restricted from using mobile devices by all federal government employees. However, some expectations were made for research and law enforcement reasons.

March 1, 2023

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee votes to approve President Joe Biden to ban the platform. Upon hearing this, TikTok released a statement saying the legislation is hurried. TikTok also says the intended ban negatively impacts Americans’ freedom of speech rights.

March 7, 2023

A group of US senators from both political parties came up with the RESTRICT Act. This act would give the federal government the power to limit and possible stop innovations from China, including TikTok.

March 23, 2023

Shou Zi, TikTok’s CEO, is asked to speak before Congress and does so during a hearing that lasts for 5 hours. He reiterated TikTok’s community’s need for security and free speech, but Congress questioned him on data privacy and TikTok’s relation to China. 

April 14, 2023

TikTok is banned in one of the US states, Montana. The ban was to start effective January 2024.

March 7, 2024

Nearly a year after the previous rumors, the TikTok ban talk resumes between the government and the public. During this time, the US House Committee passed an unexpected measure, including banning TikTok as part of a national security bill. 

According to the committee, the unsettled security and privacy issues by TikTok’s owning company, ByteDance, prompted the move. The White House also stated that President Biden would approve the bill when it gets to him.

March 13, 2024

The US House of Representatives voted 352-52 to go ahead with the ban on the platform. The bill will be transferred to the Senate afterward, where it is expected to spark intense debate.

April 23, 2024

The Senate passed the bill to force the sale of TikTok. Congress requested that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, sell the platform to a non-Chinese company within a year. Failure to comply would lead to a ban on the app in the US.

April 24, 2024

President Biden signs the bill into law. On the same day, TikTok stated that enacting the TikTok ban is unconstitutional and will challenge it in court. The statement further says the platform has invested billions of dollars to keep US data safe and the platform free from manipulation.

Would a National Ban Work?

The chances that TikTok will manage to maneuver a divestment from ByteDance are doubtful. Even if Biden has already passed the bill into law, Google and Apple are responsible for enforcing it. To do this, they would need to make updating or downloading the app hard. However, the chances of both companies cooperating could be higher since Apple has a significant investment in the Chinese market.

Montana, the first US state to ban TikTok, faced legal challenges in implementing the same, and Texas is also facing a similar issue. Texas agreed to take TikTok off state devices and networks but was challenged by First Amendment lawyers and further upheld by a federal judge.

Banning TikTok may also be highly unlikely since other platforms have a large amount of user data. Even if TikTok uses an algorithm to determine what content to provide its users, Meta apps use an almost similar algorithm. Meta is an American platform, and the information mined by Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms like X is similar to what TikTok gets from its users. Even if the companies can be requested to share user data with government officials, they can still do whatever they want.

Also, a potential ban on TikTok may violate American’s First Amendment rights by outlawing an app Americans use to express themselves freely. The government may be overstepping the constitution by targeting a single company and not implementing the same law for others.

Reasons For TikTok Ban

The main reason why the US wants to ban TikTok is national security. There are fears that the Chinese government, from which TikTok’s parent company hails, could use TikTok to collect sensitive American data. They also believe the Chinese government could interfere with US elections.

In their defense, TikTok maintains that all US data is stored in the States, separate from Chinese serves. However, due to the complex corporate structure of Chinese national security laws, lawmakers remain concerned about the potential for security risks.

What Happens if TikTok Is Banned in the US?

A TikTok ban does not mean the app will stop working overnight. First, app stores in the US would remove TikTok and cut accessibility to new users. Existing users may lose access over time. This, or they would face heavy restrictions that limit their ability to use the platform.

Since many brands and businesses use TikTok, they would need to start looking for alternatives. This would directly impact their income since they risk potentially losing their audiences.

If Banned, When Would TikTok Be Gone?

The latest version of the legislation by Congress gives TikTok 270 days- around nine months- to sell to a non-Chinese company. If Congress establishes significant progress in selling TikTok, they will give TikTok a 90-day extension. If this happens, the app will continue operating normally in the United States.

Is ByteDance Planning to Sell TikTok?

No, ByteDance posted on its official account on Toutiao, a social media platform it owns, that it has no plans to sell TikTok. The company would prefer to shut down TikTok in the US rather than sell it if they exhaust all legal options to fight legislation of the ban.

According to TikTok, ByteDance’s Chinese founder owns only 20% of the shares. Nearly 60% of the platform’s shares are owned by institutional investors. These include major US investment firms like General Atlantic, Carlyle Group, and Susquehanna International Group. The remaining 20% is owned by its employees worldwide, and three of the company’s five board members are American.

So, What Next?

TikTok’s journey in the US has been marked by a series of events, as seen above. While TikTok has already clarified that they are not ready to sell the app, we can just wait and see whether they will pursue legal avenues to challenge the ban. All this leaves the future of the platform in the US uncertain.