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TikTok ban: A complete timeline and everything you need to know

Can TikTok survive this time?

Published onApril 24, 2024

Tiktok stock photo on smartphone
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

TikTok has been one of the most popular apps in the world for nearly half a decade now. It has fundamentally reshaped the way millions of people consume content on the web, but all of that attention has (rightfully) also warranted concern from officials. In some countries, such as India, TikTok has already been banned for years.

Now, things have finally come to a head, with the United States mere days away from passing a law to force TikTok to sell or shut down in the US. If you haven’t been following the whole story, we’ve broken down everything you need to know about the TikTok ban, the reasons behind it, and the full timeline so far.

Why does the US want to ban TikTok?

TikTok 1
Joe Hindy / Android Authority

The main reason the US wants to ban TikTok is its ties with China. TikTok is the global version of the Chinese platform Douyin, and the two share the same parent company, ByteDance.

Legislators in the US object to American data being in the hands of a Chinese company. With a platform as popular as TikTok, the amount of data we’re talking about is astronomical. Since many of its users are underage, privacy concerns are even more of a controversial issue.

The US wants to ban TikTok because American data might end up in the hands of the Chinese government.

Despite the company’s efforts to be transparent, legislators are also concerned that TikTok will tweak its algorithms or give data over to the Chinese government if asked. More extreme elements of the US government take the allegations even further, claiming that the company is already under the direct control of the Chinese Communist Party.

There is some anecdotal evidence that hot-button issues related to China are less prominent on TikTok than other platforms, but that’s about as far as the actual evidence goes.

Of course, there are concerns other than national security. Many think the app is spreading misinformation or simply too addictive. For its part, TikTok does have heavy content moderation, just like other social media platforms, and takes things even further by allowing US-based workers in Oracle to vet its algorithm and store US customer data. So far, that doesn’t seem to be enough for legislators in the US.

Another possible explanation is that TikTok is merely caught up in an ongoing trade war between the US and China. We’ve already seen hardware companies like HUAWEI banned from the US, and large US-based social media apps like Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) are banned in China. This would be yet another escalation, which would be sure to have repercussions in the near future.

Should the US ban TikTok?

Security and privacy option in Android settings stock photo 2
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

While security and privacy are serious concerns, the elephant in the room is that every other social media platform is already collecting and selling your data. As a general rule, if data is available to advertisers, it’s available for wholesale purchase, as well.

In other words, TikTok is and always has been playing by the same rules as every other company in the US.

Even beyond big players like Facebook and Google, smaller companies that you’ve never even heard of are scooping up data from your device and selling it to the highest bidder. In most cases, that includes governments around the world.

This data is anonymized, but it’s trivial to identify individual users based on their usage habits. In the absence of a comprehensive privacy law in the US, nothing will stop this. Of course, this wouldn’t score as many political points as banning TikTok, which is why many have called the situation “security theater.”

Your data is already being sold to the highest bidder.

As for national security concerns, abuse of algorithms and propaganda already fill American social media platforms like Facebook and X (formerly Twitter). In fact, Russian propaganda has thrived on Elon Musk’s X, which has already gotten the platform in hot water with the European Union. In other words, a fire sale of TikTok to a non-Chinese billionaire or investor group wouldn’t really solve any problems.

While forcing the sale of TikTok would assuage any concerns about China’s influence over Americans, it would also set a dangerous precedent. Should the US become more like China, banning apps or forcing them into the hands of domestic owners? Is this really a better solution than passing legislation that holds all social media companies, regardless of where they’re based, to higher standards of privacy and security?

Do you think TikTok should be banned in the US?

114 votes

TikTok ban timeline

TikTok featured image
Joe Hindy / Android Authority

The efforts to ban TikTok in the US have been steadily growing since it first rose to popularity in 2020, but here’s a brief timeline of the major events over the past few years.

2020: The Trump administration tries to force a sale

Shortly after being banned in India, the Trump administration announced that it was “looking into banning” TikTok and other Chinese apps. This led to an FTC probe, which was nominally to investigate TikTok’s compliance with a 2019 law protecting the data of children under 13.

Ultimately, President Trump signed an executive order effectively banning both TikTok and WeChat in the US in August 2020. For the app to continue to function in the US, TikTok owner ByteDance would need to sell the app to a non-Chinese entity. At first Microsoft expressed interest, then Oracle, but both deals ultimately fell through.

Just hours before the ban was to take effect, a federal judge ruled that it violated the First Amendment. Although the ban never took hold, TikTok did continue its partnership with Oracle. From this point onward, US data began to be stored on Oracle servers, and TikTok’s physical footprint in the US grew significantly.

2022: TikTok gets proactive

Although no serious efforts to ban TikTok took hold in 2021 or 2022, TikTok was still working behind the scenes to protect its position in the US. In June 2022, TikTok announced that all US data was now being housed on Oracle’s cloud servers. Oracle also began vetting TikTok’s algorithms to make sure they weren’t manipulated by Chinese authorities.

These efforts were part of the so-called Project Texas, named after Oracle’s headquarters in Texas. The $1.5 billion project had the goal of keeping all US data on US soil, held by a US company, overseen by US personnel.

TikTok hoped that it would be enough to keep security concerns from the US government at bay, but all it did was delay the inevitable.

2023: TikTok comes under fire once again

In early 2023 the Biden administration turned its attention to TikTok, banning the app on all federal devices and calling for stricter regulations. As part of a senate hearing that included representatives from Meta, X, and other social media companies, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was grilled over questions of TikTok’s security, privacy, and safety for children.

While much of the hearing amounted to nothing more than political grandstanding, House committees still recommended a ban on the app. TikTok also claimed that the Biden administration began pressuring the company’s Chinese owners to “divest their stakes in the popular video app or face a possible US ban.”

State legislators in Montana took things into their own hands, passing a state-wide ban on TikTok that would take effect on January 1, 2024. The ban never took effect, with judges shooting it down as unconstitutional and in violation of First Amendment free speech protections. Elsewhere, more states began banning the app on government-owned devices.

2024: A new ban gains steam

After mounting pressure, the House of Representatives passed a bill in March 2024 to force ByteDance to sell its ownership of TikTok in 165 days or face a complete ban in the US. The bill would still need to pass the US Senate to take effect, but President Biden has already stated that he would sign the bill if it passes. Despite this, his campaign is still actively using TikTok to reach younger voters.

That first bill was stalled in the Senate and never put to a vote. However, another law, which would force ByteDance to divest within nine months, passed the House of Representatives and later the Senate in April 2024. This new law is tied to billions in aid for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, as well as sanctions against Iran.

The new package has much wider bipartisan support, and President Biden has already pledged to sign the bill. In other words, we are days or perhaps hours away from the US forcing ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a nationwide ban.

That said, even if the bill passes, the TikTok ban is likely to be held up in court for months. Similar bans in the past have all been struck down for violating the First Amendment, so new evidence of serious security concerns will need to be presented if the ban is to stick. If the ban does stick, ByteDance’s sale of TikTok, which is valued at $100 billion, will take months of negotiating.

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