TikTok faces US ban if ByteDance doesn’t divest stake

16 Mar 2023

TikTok logo statue at VidCon 2022. Image: Anthony Quintano (CC by 2.0)

The threat was made amid fears that TikTok is giving private user data to the Chinese government, but the platform said a change in ownership won’t change data access.

TikTok is facing a full ban in the US if its Chinese shareholders don’t sell their stake in the company, the company has confirmed.

This is the latest move in the US amid concerns that the video sharing platform – owned by Beijing-based ByteDance – may be providing private user data from around the world to the Chinese government for surveillance purposes.

The US has taken certain measures to address these security concerns in recent months, with the White House issuing a notice to ban the app from federal-owned devices. Several US states such as South Dakota have also banned TikTok from state devices.

But the new decision is a stronger ultimatum from the US, with the threat of a full ban if ByteDance doesn’t sell its shares in the US version of the app.

A TikTok spokesperson told SiliconRepublic.com that a change in ownership isn’t a security solution as it “would not impose any new restrictions on data flows or access”.

“The best way to address concerns about national security is with the transparent, US-based protection of US user data and systems, with robust third-party monitoring, vetting and verification, which we are already implementing,” the spokesperson said.

The US request was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, but TikTok confirmed the request for an ownership change to the BBC, while a source also confirmed the story to Axios.

The situation presents difficulties for ByteDance if it chooses to comply with the request, as a large number of ByteDance shares are owned by global investment firms, a TikTok source told Axios.

Last August, TikTok gave Oracle access to audit the platform’s algorithms and content moderation models to show they aren’t being manipulated by Chinese authorities.

The video sharing app is also working on Project Texas to help build trust with users, US lawmakers and stakeholders.

Further fears overseas

But the security concerns surrounding TikTok don’t end with the US, as Canada also recently issued a ban on the app for state devices.

On this side of the Atlantic, the European Commission asked all employees to delete the TikTok app from devices provided by the organisation by yesterday (15 March).

This move followed a confirmation by TikTok last November that employees in China and a host of other countries have remote access to European user data. Until then, it was believed data was only stored in Singapore and the US.

In response to these security concerns, TikTok recently announced Project Clover, which is a new set of measures to protect European user data.

The UK, meanwhile, is currently investigating whether a similar TikTok ban should be issued on government devices. The UK is expected to move forward with a ban as early as this week, according to a report from The Guardian.

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TikTok logo statue at VidCon 2022. Image: Anthony Quintano via Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic