Traffic Cardinal Traffic Cardinal wrote 04.06.2024

TikTok, Kid! What You Should Know about Restrictions on TikTok in the United States

Traffic Cardinal Traffic Cardinal wrote 04.06.2024
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In April, news portals exploded: Joe Biden endorsed the ban imposed on TikTok, and the app had to either face the consequences or fight to the end. However, journalists mostly highlighted the fact without providing the background that would explain the reasons for such a drastic measure, but embellishing the piece with distracting tangents that are of no use to anyone. Affiliates, obviously, have no time to parse tons of information: they need to understand whether the resolution will take its toll and affect their carefully aligned campaigns. That’s where we come in: we clarify the situation without unnecessary speculations.

Timeline

Before we leap into the rabbit hole and explain why the pressure has been ratcheted up on TikTok, let’s backtrack a little and refresh the key facts, cornerstones, and dates.

2016

Chinese company ByteDance launches Douyin, a video-sharing app designed specifically for Chinese users. The app becomes so utterly popular that the company decides to run a spin-off version for foreign audiences. This spin-off is named TikTok.

2017

ByteDance acquires Musical.ly, a platform where users share short videos. Eventually, the company merges the platform with the newly created TikTok.

Feeling emboldened by the algorithm that encourages binge-watching, users begin to share various videos, starting from dancing and food preparation to challenges and scientific facts.

2019

  • February. Lil Nas X releases his song “Old Town Road” on TikTok, which goes viral. This phenomenon becomes a stepping stone for other musical artists as a means of gaining popularity.
  • October. U.S. politicians raise alarms about TikTok’s detrimental influence and insist that a federal investigation must be opened shortly.
  • December. The Pentagon requires all U.S. military personnel to delete TikTok from all their devices.

2020

Donald Trump issues an order banning American companies from any transaction with ByteDance. Several days later, he demands that ByteDance divest itself of TikTok’s U.S. operations within 90 days.

Donald Trump/Joe Biden
Donald Trump/Joe Biden

Meanwhile, Microsoft confirms it is exploring the acquisition of TikTok, but the deal never strikes. At the same time, TikTok files a lawsuit against the Trump Administration and tries to win favor with the government by housing U.S. user data in Oracle’s serves, but Fortune suggests this was “a largely cosmetic move.”

2021

  • February. Newly sworn-in President Joe Biden brings plans to ban TikTok to a halt.
  • December. A Wall Street Journal report discovers TikTok algorithms can flood teens with a stream of harmful content.

2022

  • February. TikTok unveils new rules to deter the spread of harmful content.
  • April. TikTok beats Instagram, becoming the most downloaded app in the world.
  • June. TikTok migrates its user data to U.S. servers, but it does not get the desired effect, and the U.S. officials warn about the risk of Chinese authorities accessing the data.
  • December. The FBI raises national security concerns, opining that Chinese officials could manipulate the app’s recommendations for influence operations.

2023

The White House demands that all agencies must delete TikTok from all government-issued mobile devices within 30 days under suspicion of China’s government getting access to the sensitive data.

2024

  • January. TikTok restricts one tool researches use to analyze popular videos.
  • March. Congress resumes a discussion regarding TikTok’s presence on the American market, and a bill to ban the app or force its sale to a U.S. company gathers steam. TikTok creators reach out to Washington claiming that the app has introduced significant changes to indemnify user data. The House of Representatives passes the ban-or-sell bill.
  • April. The Senate passes the bill as well and sends it to President Biden, who signs it.
  • May. TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance file a lawsuit against the U.S. federal government declaring that the law is unconstitutional.

What does it mean?

As you can see from the timeline above, discussions about banning TikTok in the U.S. and internationally accuse it of being a tool for propaganda has been in view for quite a while, and the cabinets seem to be rife with speculations regarding the topic, occasionally gaining the groundswell of support from various agencies. Prior to the law’s signing, a slew of TikTok bans across the U.S. barred the app from devices tied to universities and government hardware, but experts claim that there is no evidence that the app has done any more damage or put at stake user privacy beyond what ordinary users see from Facebook and Google.

How will the ban work?

Actually, things are more comprehensible than they may seem. Ideally, the ban aims at app stores: if Google PlayMarket or AppStore distribute or update TikTok, they will face civil penalties imposed by the federal government. As planned, Internet hosting companies will also be barred from distributing or maintaining TikTok. Here’s the catch, though: the ban-or-sell bill has raised concerns among advocates for digital rights, as the United States may be undermining the promotion of open and free Internet, not subject to control by individual countries.

When does the ban go into effect?

Originally, Congress insisted that ByteDance had only six months to divest from its U.S. subsidiary, however, further negotiations extended the period to nine months. If ByteDance indeed arranges a deal, the company will get another three months to complete the sale.

Overall, it would be at least a year before the ban goes into effect, and considering the plausible—and very much expected—possibility of court challenges, the issue could take months, or even years, to resolve: after all, TikTok has seen some success with such court challenges in the past.

For now, TikTok will still be available in the U.S.

Will TikTok be removed from my phone?

Not immediately. TikTok, used by more than 170 million Americans, most likely will not disappear from your devices even if the ban goes into effect. Instead, you will not find the app on Google and Apple’s app stores. Meaning: users won’t be able to download it, update it, or receive security patches and bug fixes, so the app will eventually become unusable and unsafe.

But there is a way out?

Yes, there is. Dodging the U.S. government’s ban is not outside the realm of possibility for a remotely technically savvy user. You can resort to alternative app stores, mask your location by VPN, or even install a foreign SIM card.

However, let us warn you: it is not clear what approaches will work and what tricks won’t prove useful, so it is safe to say that users may migrate to other platforms that are in great abundance nowadays: Instagram or YouTube, to name a few.

Should I be worried?

No more than usual. If you want to protect your privacy on TikTok, employ the same practices you use to protect yourself on other social media platforms or watch videos without opening an account.

However, precautions you or government officials take might not prove their value. Data experts say that the Chinese—or any other, for that matter—government could easily get information on Americans in other ways, including through commercial data brokers that rent or sell personal information. TikTok, for its part, has denied assertions that it could be used as a tool of the Chinese government. Moreover, the company adds that China’s authorities have not attempted to access U.S. user data, and even if they did try to reach out with such a request, it would immediately be rejected.

Have any other countries ban TikTok?

Yep, they have done so indeed, overall or partially. For example, India banned the app in 2020 on the same grounds as the U.S. government: Indian officials cracked down on hundreds of Chinese-owned apps, claiming in part that they were secretly transferring users’ data to foreign servers. All in all, India became one of a handful of countries that have banned TikTok completely.

Countries that have banned TikTok overe security concerns
Countries that have banned TikTok overe security concerns

There are other countries, too:

  • Canada might have been the first to announce the ban of TikTok on all government-provided phones in February 2023;
  • The United Kingdom barred all government employees from using TikTok on government-issued devices in March 2023;
  • Australia followed suit in April 2023;
  • Then, the executive arm of the European Union, France, and New Zealand’s Parliament banned the app from official devices;
  • Taiwan’s minister of digital affairs declared TikTok a dangerous product posing a serious national security threat.

Wrapping Up

All in all, it's hard to predict the most plausible outcome, but for the time being your campaigns on TikTok seem to be safe. The app has initiated legal proceedings as the ban-or-sell bill is deemed unconstitutional, and it will certainly stretch the period of the entire issue even further into months or, quite possibly, years. It’s worth looking into Reels and Shorts options, but do it in your free time: you still have a lot of time on your hands.

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