TikTok Bans: Scrutiny Escalates as House Panel Advances Latest Bill

TikTok says a US ban of the short-form-video app would be "a ban on the export of American culture."

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Queenie Wong was a senior writer for CNET News, focusing on social media companies including Facebook's parent company Meta, Twitter and TikTok. Before joining CNET, she worked for The Mercury News in San Jose and the Statesman Journal in Salem, Oregon. A native of Southern California, she took her first journalism class in middle school.
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3 min read
TikTok logo on a phone screen

TikTok has more than 1 billion monthly users worldwide.

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TikTok, a popular short-form-video app owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance, is facing more scrutiny from US lawmakers as national security concerns about the app continue to grow.

On Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to advance a bill that House Republicans say would empower President Joe Biden's administration to ban TikTok nationwide. The committee had been expected to clear the bill, known as the Deterring America's Technology Adversaries Act, because the committee's chair, Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, introduced the legislation, last week.

During debate about the bill on Tuesday, McCaul called TikTok a "spy balloon" in children's phones. "If it's too dangerous to be on our phones as members of Congress, in my judgment it's too dangerous to be on our children's phones," he said.

Democrats said the legislation is being rushed, has been fueled by fear and speculation, and could harm other companies outside of TikTok. The American Civil Liberties Union opposes the bill, saying in a blog post that HR 1153 would hurt freedom of speech and expression. The committee passed the bill on a 24-16 vote along party lines, clearing the way for a House floor vote.

Though the bill is far from becoming law, the rapid advancement of the legislation underscores how momentum for banning TikTok is growing in the US. Lawmakers and the US government have continued to express fears about what data TikTok collects and shares about its 100 million monthly American users. 

In a statement released Wednesday, TikTok said a US ban would be a "ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use the service worldwide."

"We're disappointed to see this rushed piece of legislation move forward, despite its considerable negative impact on the free speech rights of millions of Americans who use and love TikTok," TikTok tweeted.

Growing calls to ban TikTok

TikTok has repeatedly said it doesn't share data with the Chinese government, but the company's remarks haven't been enough to appease lawmakers. In November, FBI Director Christopher Wray said the app could be used to "control data collection on millions of users, or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations if they so choose, or to control software on millions of devices." FCC Commissioner Brian Carr last year called the app a "sophisticated surveillance tool."  In December, Forbes reported that TikTok fired employees who tracked the physical locations of journalists covering the company. 

The White House on Monday set a deadline for government employees to delete TikTok from federal devices. Federal agencies will have 30 days to remove the social media app from phones and systems, and prohibit devices from accessing TikTok via the internet, according to a Feb. 27 memo from the Office of Management and Budget. 

"This guidance is part of the administration's ongoing commitment to securing our digital infrastructure and protecting the American people's security and privacy," said Chris DeRusha, the federal chief information security officer in the OMB. Reuters previously reported on the 30-day deadline. 

In December, US lawmakers banned the app from government devices. Other countries -- including Canada, the EU and Taiwan -- have taken similar steps. 

The ban could also escalate already mounting tensions between China and the US. On Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said in a press conference that the US was "over-stretching the concept of national security and abusing state power to suppress foreign companies."

"How unsure of itself can the world's top superpower be to fear a young people's favorite app like that?" she said.

TikTok is widely popular in the US, especially among teens, competing with platforms such as Facebook-owned Instagram and Google-owned YouTube. The rising popularity of the app has only increased fears about what data TikTok collects. About 67% of US teens say they've used TikTok, according to a 2022 survey released by the Pew Research Center.

US politicians, including those in the Trump administration, have failed to ban TikTok before. US lawmakers have been proposing other legislation to address the app's national security concerns. 

Meanwhile, TikTok has been meeting with US lawmakers and told them about a $1.5 billion plan to reorganize TikTok's US business, The Wall Street Journal reported in January. TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on March 23.