Why US Lawmakers Are Trying To Ban China's Massively Popular TikTok App

TikTok from Chinese megafirm ByteDance has turned short-form video into a social media phenomenon, making Twitter look pretty dumb for canning Vine a few years back. The skyrocketing popularity of TikTok has some security experts and political leaders concerned. As a Chinese company, the Chinese government has access to all of its data. There have been increasing calls to ban the app, and now a bipartisan group of US Congresspeople has announced a bill that will do just that.

The bill has a real doozy of a title: "Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party Act." If you're short on time, the acronym of all that is "ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act." Handy. If passed into law, the Act would block all transactions from any social media company that is based in, controlled by, or influenced by a "country of concern." The bill does call out TikTok and ByteDance specifically, but it could apply to other social platforms in the future.

TikTok claims it is not doing anything untoward, but we do know that mobile apps collect a huge amount of data on users. As TikTok's popularity has grown, regulators in the US grew concerned about what happens to all that data because we also know that large companies in China don't have the option of keeping information secret from the government. That means the Chinese intelligence apparatus could collect detailed data on millions of US citizens via TikTok's app.

antisocial act
The bill's preamble doesn't pull any punches.

ByteDance claims it doesn't transmit data from the US to China, but there have been several instances where it was found to be doing that. Politicians in the US have started to take note of the alleged privacy implications. South Dakota, Texas, South Carolina, and Maryland have all banned TikTok from state-owned smartphones, and now federal lawmakers are taking action.

"This isn’t about creative videos -- this is about an app that is collecting data on tens of millions of American children and adults every day,” says a press release from Senator Rubio, who is one of the Republicans backing the bill. He is joined by Republican Representative Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin and Democratic Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois.

The bipartisan nature of the legislation is notable -- most of the state-level bans thus far have come from Republican-run governments that frequently display animosity toward China. If Democrats are starting to see TikTok as a security and privacy threat as well, a law like this might actually pass, as this would be one of the few areas of agreement between the two parties.