US passes bill to ban TikTok unless Chinese owner sells platform

The United States has moved a step closer to banning TikTok after legislation was passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday, US Correspondent Robert Moore explains

The US has moved closer to an outright ban of TikTok unless its China-based owner sells the social media platform.

Politicians have been pushing for the ban after concerns that the company's current structure is a national security threat.

TikTok has more than 150 million users in the US alone and is owned entirely as a subsidiary of Chinese tech firm ByteDance Ltd.

US politicians calling for the ban have contended that ByteDance is beholden to the Chinese government, who could push for US user data to be released to them at any time.

The worry stems from Chinese national security laws that compel organisations to assist with intelligence gathering.

The bill, passed by a vote of 352-65, now goes to the Senate, where its prospects are unclear.

What happens next?

House passage of the bill is only the first step. The Senate would also need to pass the measure for it to become law, and politicians in that chamber indicated it would undergo a thorough review.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan has said the aim is to end Chinese ownership, not outright ban TikTok.

“We have given TikTok a clear choice,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. “Separate from your parent company ByteDance, which is beholden to the CCP (the Chinese Communist Party), and remain operational in the United States, or side with the CCP and face the consequences.

"The choice is TikTok's," he added.

Protestors gather outside the Capitol as politicians vote to ban TikTok. Credit: AP

President Joe Biden has said if Congress passes the measure, he will sign it. The vote opens a new front in the feud between US politicians and the tech industry.

Members of Congress have long been critical of tech platforms and their expansive influence, often clashing with executives over industry practices.

But by targeting TikTok, politicians are singling out a platform popular with millions of people, many of whom are of a younger demographic, just months before an election.

What does TikTok say?

TikTok has long denied that it could be used as a tool of the Chinese government.

The company has said it has never shared US user data with Chinese authorities and won’t do so if it is asked.

To date, the US government also has not provided any evidence that shows TikTok shared such information with Chinese authorities.

Security briefings have seemingly changed few minds, instead solidifying the views of both sides - those who back the platform and those who think of it as a tool for Chinese intelligence gathering.

It is unclear if China would approve of the sale of the platform or if it could go ahead in the next few months.

There are also question marks surrounding who would actually buy it. Although if the legislation is passed, it could make the sale price cheaper.

What would happen to TikTok users?

The app is used by around 170 million people in the US.

If the app is banned, it would be removed from app stores in the US, including Apple's app store and Google. It would also be blocked on web hosting services.

This would remain the case unless ByteDance went on to sell TikTok.

Users will likely to still be able to use the app if they use a virtual private network (VPNs) that can bypass restrictions.

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