The House of Representative voted to bar federal employees from downloading the video-sharing social network app TikTok on government-issued devices. This Monday vote is a part of a larger $741 billion defense policy bill.
Representatives voted 336-71 to pass the amendment as part of broader bipartisan proposals to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is expected to pass on Tuesday (with the Senate passing their version in two weeks).
Background: Tiktok, which became popular in the U.S. in 2017 when its parent company, Chinese-owned ByteDance, combined its similar app to the acquired U.S. app Musical.ly, is finding itself in a difficult position. Grave concerns about its connection to China's government and military, criticisms about children's privacy rights violations and China's latest imposition of security law in Hong Kong is driving Washington to talks of banning it.
Trump's administration is seriously thinking of banning Tik Tok. India has already banned the app together with more than 50 other Chinese-owned apps. Responding to pressure and criticisms in the U.S. and abroad over its China connection, the video-sharing mobile app released a report detailing its response to requests for data and content removal or restriction from different countries and government agencies.
What next for Tik Tok? As alarm on several different perspectives of Tik Tok's threat rose, both chambers of Congress are making efforts to address it. Issues confronting Tik Tok range from children's privacy to national security, and now aggravated as it captured more audience during the pandemic, surpassing 2 billion downloads globally with U.S. downloads peaking in March upon start of quarantine. And with its user base getting broader exemplified by some of its family hashtags and over 30 or 70 hashtags, the urgency to address issues surrounding consumer privacy is seen.
With the threat of a ban ominously troubling this controversial app, Tik Tok is strengthening its lobbying efforts in Washington to offset the heavy scrutiny launched at it. Additionally, they are enlisting veteran lawmakers in their advisory team to help in developing a broad way in reviewing and moderating objectionable content.
To delete or not: Knowing what personal information Tik Tok gathers might help one decide whether to continue its usage or delete the app entirely. Even if the app does not appear to collect any more information than Facebook and other social media apps, the risk of laying open one's personal data for potential abuse is great and more so with a China-connected app.
How goes the ban? With no criterion in banning a wildly popular video streaming app, the U.S. government is still unclear on how to go about this move. Its popularity will most likely raise objections from consumers but more so on censorship concerns and free speech challenges from agitated rights advocates because of its lack of clarity.
Well-connected influencers: With mounting objections and fear of risks to personal data and national security in the use of this video-sharing platform, Tik Tok, being hard pressed to convince everybody where its allegiance lies, now engaged a battery of highly influential lobbyists to work for their benefit. This calls for a rough and tough time for both lawmakers and lobbyists alike as the decision of TikTok's operations in the U.S. hangs in a balance.