Could A TikTok Ban Actually Happen? Here's What You & Your Teen Need To Know
The popular app is currently a hot topic on Capitol Hill.
For millions of Americans, TikTok is a daily part of their routine. The video-sharing app serves up everything from cooking tips to funny videos and career advice. For some users, being a TikTok creator has helped them turn their passions into a lucrative job or side hustle. But there are rumblings in Washington, D.C., that a TikTok ban could happen if the app's Chinese parent company ByteDance doesn't sell its shares.
The potential ban has everyone from Gen Z to parents buzzing, but the U.S. government would have to pass the RESTRICT Act for a universal ban on private phones to go into effect. Opponents of the bill have noted that it could violate the First Amendment, while advocates argue that as long as a Chinese company owns the app, it poses a national security threat. But where does that leave moms who enjoy a midnight scroll or teens who use TikTok to connect with their friends?
Ahead, find out everything you need to know about the potential TikTok ban, including why the conversation is happening, which countries have already ditched the app, and what information is actually at risk when you use TikTok (or any social media site).
Why is the government so worried about TikTok?
TikTok is far from the only app that gathers data like location, age, and cookies. Facebook, Instagram, and countless other apps do the same thing with an aim towards personalizing your user experience and selling you stuff. The difference is a Chinese company owns TikTok — and the U.S. government is afraid the Chinese government could force ByteDance to hand over users' data, making the app a potential threat to national security.
That's why bans on devices owned by government officials in numerous countries, including the U.S., have already gone into effect. The goal is to stop any potentially sensitive information from being accessed by China. While this argument makes sense for people who work for the government or whose devices could contain sensitive information (think journalists), it's less clear what exactly the Chinese government would do with access to your latest deep dive into TikTok cleaning hacks.
What does TikTok have to say about the government's concerns?
When Canada joined other countries in banning the app from the devices of public officials in February, TikTok issued a statement to the BBC. A spokesperson said the move was made "without citing any specific security concerns about TikTok or contacting us to discuss any concern prior to making this decision."
The statement continued, "We are always available to meet with our government officials to discuss how we protect the privacy and security of Canadians, but singling out TikTok in this way does nothing to achieve that shared goal. All it does is prevent officials from reaching the public on a platform loved by millions of Canadians."
Meanwhile, during a U.S. congressional hearing in March, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew answered questions for five hours. Throughout the hearing, he maintained that TikTok does not pose a significant risk to national security. Chew also discussed Project Texas, a plan to have U.S. data overseen, stored, and monitored by a board of American appointees.
Where has TikTok been banned?
So far, most countries have stopped short of altogether banning TikTok. Instead, places like the U.S., Canada, and Australia have opted to prohibit it on the devices of government officials. However, India put a nationwide ban into effect in 2020. Afghanistan and Pakistan have implemented similar bans, as well.
The following countries have all partially banned the app, with the focus being on officials rather than private citizens:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
- European Union
Additionally, several states have enacted their own government-level bans. Some state colleges have also stopped students from using school Wi-Fi to access TikTok, although students are circumventing this rule by switching to their phone's data.
What is the RESTRICT Act?
The RESTRICT Act, also called the TikTok ban bill online, is about more than TikTok. The bill would hand over a large amount of power to the U.S. government to ban or force the sale of apps or software owned by countries that could pose a potential security risk. This includes technology from China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Cuba, and Venezuela, but the language of the bill allows for other countries to be added in the future.
Even if the bill gets passed, it could face legal opposition if found to violate the First Amendment. "In democratic governments, the government can't just ban free speech or expression without very strong and tailored grounds to do so, and it's just not clear that we have that yet," Caitlin Chin, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies told The New York Times.
How can you protect your information on apps like TikTok?
While the question of whether or not TikTok poses a real threat to national security remains unanswered, apps including TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram all store quite a bit of data on users. Simply by downloading an app, you agree to hand over a certain amount of information, including but not limited to your location, cookies stored on your device, and data used for purchases.
In some cases, you can deny an app access to your contacts or location to stop some of the information gathering. You should also read the terms and service agreements on apps before installing them on your phone or a family device (we know they're long, but they also outline exactly what you're signing up for). Other things you can do to protect your family's information include:
- Don't sign into apps with your social media accounts.
- Review app permissions and turn off any that are unnecessary.
- Update apps regularly.
- Delete apps that you no longer use.
While a nationwide TikTok ban is still on the table, the government has a long way to go before a law restricting access to the app from your private devices could go into effect. For now, you can use the app as much as you like (just try to avoid the dreaded endless scroll, which is the real TikTok hazard).