Categories: Tech News

What the midterms could mean for the future of the app

The effort to ban TikTok is back and could gain more steam after the midterm elections.

Former Trump administration officials, a communications regulator, conservative commentators and several Republican lawmakers have been working in recent months to revive the Trump-era movement to ban TikTok, or at least force a derivation of the video application of your Chinese. parent company

The suggestion that TikTok could disappear from app stores or stop working on US phones may seem absurd to the millions of people who turn to it as a source of entertainment and information. But critics have never given up on the idea of ​​banning it, and some consider it a piece pending business since then-President Donald Trump tried and failed to ban TikTok downloads in 2020.

Critics of TikTok say they fear that Americans’ data is ending up in the hands of the Chinese government and that Chinese authorities are determining what Americans see on a major media platform, concerns that TikTok says are unfounded.

In June, BuzzFeed News reported that China-based employees of ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, had accessed non-public data about US users. TikTok denied handing over U.S. data to Chinese officials and said it would never do so, although it acknowledged that Chinese employees have access to it.

TikTok COO Vanessa Pappas speaks during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Sept. 14, 2022.Alex Brandon / AP file

Experts said there is a steep hill to climb for those who want a total ban on TikTok, but the mid-sessions could provide a push. If Republicans hold onto Congress next year, they could put pressure on the White House to force a sale of the company or more, said Joel Thayer, a supporter of restrictions on the company and president of the Digital Progress Institute, a technology and telecommunications advocacy group.

“The middle parts will play some role,” Thayer said. “Next Congress, we’ll probably see more China hawks, and I think TikTok will be part of that campaign.”

Brendan Carr, a Republican who was appointed to the Federal Communications Commission by Trump, added fuel to criticism of TikTok when he told Axios in an interview Tuesday that he wants to see the app banned, and while the FCC can’t do it alone, his comments reflect continued interest in the idea.

The renewed push for TikTok’s ban or forced sale is coming as the company is in negotiations with the Biden administration over a possible written security agreement. Tik Tok he says believes the settlement would address not only privacy concerns, but also how the app moderates content.

“We are confident that we are on track to reach an agreement with the US government that will satisfy all reasonable national security concerns,” TikTok said in a statement to NBC News.

Megan Stifel, a former national security official at the Justice Department, said she believes the most likely outcome of the debate is a deal between TikTok and the government, not a ban.

“As believers in democracy, we want to be able to keep this medium open, but we don’t want this data acquisition to fly under the radar,” said Stifel, director of strategy at the Institute for Security and Technology. a think tank.

Given the dynamics, he said, there are TikTok’s non-Chinese investors who want to avoid major business disruption. TikTok says that more than 60% of ByteDance is owned by “Western investment firms” including Sequoia Capital, Fidelity and BlackRock. This year, the company also more than doubled its federal lobbying budget.

But the calls for a shutdown keep coming, and TikTok’s future is as clouded as it has been in two years.

Adding to the pressure is a bipartisan group of state attorneys general that in March announced an investigation into TikTok’s effect on the physical and mental health of children and teens. And nearly two years ago, the Federal Trade Commission ordered TikTok and eight other online services to hand over data-handling documents.

Behind the scenes, Keith Krach is among those leading the charge against the app. Krach, a 65-year-old former tech executive, left the State Department last year and is now working full-time to counter threats from TikTok and Chinese technology in general.

Krach, who spent a year and a half as undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and environment, said he fears TikTok is “spreading like wildfire” and needs to be contained, possibly along with other Chinese consumer companies such as video. game company Tencent.

“We should duplicate what we did with Huawei and ZTE and not let them in,” Krach said, referring to two Chinese companies the US sanctioned in recent years. Krach wants to use the same playbook.

Then-Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment Keith Krach speaks during a meeting in Brasilia, Brazil, on November 11, 2020.Mateus Bonomi / AGIF via AP file

He is building a civil society organization, the Global Technology Security Commission, that he says will bring together technology companies and foreign government officials in a new alliance against Chinese technology in general. Kersti Kaljulaid, the former president of Estonia, is co-chairing the commission, and Krach said he has recently discussed it with NATO Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană and EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton . Kaljulaid did not respond to a request for comment. A NATO spokesman said they did not comment on Geoană’s discussions. A spokesman for Breton declined to comment on the talks with Krach, but said data protection is primarily the responsibility of individual nations.

Last month, Krach interviewed Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on the issue at a live event with the Atlantic Council, and Politico called him a “regular guest in Biden’s circles,” despite his work for trump Krach is a registered Republican.

Krach said he is open to different strategies to pressure ByteDance, from denying the company access to US capital markets to persuading companies and government agencies to keep the app off phones issued for the job This piecemeal approach was successful a few years ago, when Wells Fargo, the US military and the Nebraska state government banned TikTok from work phones.

Some Democrats share similar concerns about TikTok, but the loudest voices have been Republicans.

“President Biden must immediately reverse course and demand nothing less than the full divestment of TikTok from ByteDance,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said in a statement to NBC News.

Rubio is co-sponsoring legislation to ban TikTok from all US government devices. It’s an idea his office said it will push next year, and it could gain traction given that the military already has such a ban.

Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state and potential 2024 presidential candidate, last month he called TikTok a “Trojan horse for the Chinese Communist Party”.

Despite the growing movement against the app, some experts have suggested separate ideas that would protect privacy without a ban.

Vilas Dhar, president of the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, a grant-making organization that focuses on the social impact of technology, said Congress should focus on passing a new federal law to protect personal data from all applications rather than a narrow ban. on TikTok.

“If we don’t have a holistic approach that takes into account the rights of free speech and the rights of consumers to choose platforms, then we’re going to go down a whole different rabbit hole,” he said.

Geoffrey Cain, a senior fellow at the Lincoln Network, a conservative tech advocacy group, noted that fear of a consumer backlash gives TikTok plenty of leverage.

“It’s a massive social media force,” he said. Compared to 2020, he added, “it’s much, much harder now for the federal government to do much around TikTok.”


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