The Biden administration's threat to ban TikTok: Here's what you should know

Jon Healey, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Reports that the Biden administration is threatening to ban TikTok, the most downloaded and one of the most heavily used apps in the country, caused users to erupt in suspicion and indignation Thursday.

Some called it a violation of the First Amendment. Others claimed it was a ploy to help Instagram Reels, the short-video service from Facebook owner Meta. Some wondered why TikTok was being singled out as a threat, considering how many apps hoover up their users' personal data.

And some simply appealed to policymakers for compassion. "Please don't ban TikTok. My teenaged son and I have a blast there," a Twitter user named Aimee Vance tweeted, then added, "Together..."

Here's a quick rundown of what's happening and why, along with some of the pros and cons of the administration's stance.

What does the administration want?

President Biden is trying to do the same thing President Trump sought to do: Take TikTok out of the hands of a Chinese company subject to Chinese law. The app was created by ByteDance, an internet-focused company founded in China in 2012. Although ByteDance has attracted some global investors, it is still controlled by its Chinese founders.


The Trump administration went so far as to ban TikTok in the United States in 2020. That order was blocked by two federal courts, however, which held that the administration had overstepped its authority.

More recently, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a group of federal agencies that examines the national security issues raised by such investments, has given ByteDance an ultimatum, according to the Wall Street Journal and several other outlets: Sell TikTok or face a ban in the United States. A TikTok spokesperson has said a sale wouldn't address national security concerns because it wouldn't put any new restrictions around access to the app's data.

TikTok's chief executive is scheduled to testify at a congressional hearing next week. The company has proposed storing U.S. users' data in this country, with technical and corporate protections designed to prevent the Chinese government from gaining access. But U.S. officials apparently are not convinced that this approach would effectively address their concerns.

Congress, meanwhile, is considering a nationwide prohibition on apps subject to Chinese government control. And the federal government, like many national and local governments around the world, has banned TikTok on devices issued to its employees. Orange County joined their ranks Tuesday.


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