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Everything You Need to Know About the Proposed TikTok Ban

The US House just passed a bill that would effectively ban TikTok. Here's what's next and what you need to know.

Bree Fowler Senior Writer
Bree Fowler writes about cybersecurity and digital privacy. Before joining CNET she reported for The Associated Press and Consumer Reports. A Michigan native, she's a long-suffering Detroit sports fan, world traveler, wannabe runner and champion baker of over-the-top birthday cakes and all-things sourdough.
Expertise cybersecurity, digital privacy, IoT, consumer tech, smartphones, wearables
Bree Fowler
3 min read
A picture of the TikTok photo on a phone in front of an American flag.

What's next for TikTok?

Getty

The US House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a bill that could lead to the banning of TikTok unless the Chinese company that owns it sells it off in the next six months.

The House voted 352-65 in favor of the measure, with one member voting present. The measure now heads to the Senate. President Joe Biden has said he will sign the law if Congress approves it.

Lawmakers in both political parties have long voiced concerns that the popular social media video app, which is owned by China-based ByteDance and has more than 150 million American users, could be a threat to national security and could be used by the Chinese government to spy on Americans or spread disinformation to further China's agenda. 

TikTok continues to deny those accusations. Ahead of the vote, TikTok rallied its US users, calling on them to urge their representatives on Capitol Hill to vote down the measure.

Representatives for TikTok didn't immediately return an email seeking comment.

If the law does go into effect and TikTok is ultimately banned, experts say the unprecedented move would undoubtedly prompt legal challenges from free-speech advocates, the tech industry and others, especially in the absence of any direct evidence showing Chinese government ties or surveillance.

So what's next for lawmakers and TikTok? Here's what you need to know.

What would the bill do?

The bill, officially titled the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, is aimed at forcing ByteDance to sell TikTok to a buyer that American officials are OK with, as well as guaranteeing that it no longer has access to US user data or control over the algorithm that decides what videos American users see. 

If TikTok doesn't comply within 180 days of the bill taking effect, the government could require the removal of its app from US app stores.

What's next?

The bill isn't going to become law anytime soon. It now moves to the Senate where it faces an uncertain future. After the bill's passage by the House, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer would only say that the Senate would review the bill when it reaches its chambers.

But others in that chamber were more enthusiastic about the House's action. Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, and Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, released a joint statement saying that they look forward to getting the bill passed through the Senate.

They say they're both concerned about the national security threat posed by TikTok, pointing to the platform's "enormous power to influence and divide Americans," adding that ByteDance remains "legally required to do the bidding of the Chinese Communist Party."

While President Biden has pledged to sign the bill, former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee running against Biden in November, now says he doesn't support a ban.

After originally calling for a ban during his presidency, Trump said Monday on CNBC's "Squawk Box" that, while he still thinks the app is a danger to national security, he no longer thinks it should be banned, noting that "there are a lot of young kids on TikTok who will go crazy without it."

Trump went on to say that banning TikTok would only boost the power of Facebook, which he referred to as an "enemy of the people."

Who else opposes the bill?

Free speech and digital rights groups, as well as some security experts, have long opposed the idea of a ban, saying that singling out TikTok doesn't do anything to solve the broader problems with social media as a whole.

Instead, they argue that lawmakers would be better off passing comprehensive digital privacy laws that would protect the personal information of Americans by stopping all social media companies from collecting it and selling it to data brokers.

In a blog post, the Electronic Frontier Foundation said that until that happens, even if TikTok is banned or sold, there's nothing stopping the Chinese government, or others, from just buying up that same data.

"Ultimately, foreign adversaries will still be able to obtain our data from social media companies unless those companies are forbidden from collecting, retaining and selling it, full stop," the EFF said.

Digital privacy rights group Fight For the Future agreed.

"The data of Americans is already susceptible to bad actors, foreign and domestic, because Congress has waited so long to act," the group said in a statement. "Censorship is not the answer, data privacy legislation is."