US plans total ban on TikTok app

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In the aftermath of the banning of the app on smartphones by White House officials, pressure was mounting against TikTok on Tuesday with the advancement in Congress of a bill that could lead to the total ban of the very popular app. in the USA.

“TikTok is a modern Chinese Communist Party Trojan horse used to monitor Americans and exploit their personal information,” said Michael McCaul, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the lower house of the United States Congress on Tuesday (February 28th).

This committee was debating on Tuesday a bill carried by the Republicans, which would give the authority to President Joe Biden to completely ban TikTok, a subsidiary of the Chinese group ByteDance, in the United States.

It would first have to be adopted by both chambers. But the measures showing the firmness of the United States against China are among the rare subjects which unite on the right and on the left in Congress, especially after the destruction of a supposed Chinese spy balloon.

Many U.S. lawmakers view the short-form, viral video platform as a national security threat.

They fear, along with a growing number of Western governments, that Beijing could access user data around the world through this app, something TikTok has denied for years.

On Monday evening, the White House ordered federal institutions to ensure that TikTok disappears from their smartphones within 30 days, pursuant to a law ratified in early January by Joe Biden.

From “political theater”, according to TikTok

TikTok considered that this ban was a matter of “political theater”, and regretted that “this approach is copied by other governments in the world”, according to a spokesperson for the platform.

The European Commission and the Canadian government recently made similar decisions for their civil servants’ mobile phones, and the Danish parliament announced on Tuesday that it has asked MPs and staff to remove the app from their devices.

The US government will “continue to examine other possible measures”, Olivia Dalton, a spokeswoman for the executive, said on Tuesday, “including how to work with Congress on this subject in the future”.

Banning the application would amount to “censoring” millions of Americans, protested TikTok, which claims more than a hundred million users in the United States.

The powerful civil rights association ACLU is also opposed to a bill that “would deprive Americans of their constitutional right to freedom of expression”, argued one of its lawyers, Jenna Leventoff, quoted in a press release.

“If it weren’t so disturbing, it would be hilarious for elected officials in the United States to try to get ‘tough on China’ by acting exactly like the Chinese government,” said Evan Greer, the director of the NGO Fight for the Future.

She calls on Congress to pass laws to stop all platforms, not just TikTok, from harvesting “so much personal data” about citizens.

“Spy Balloon”

TikTok and the White House recalled that a review was underway by a government agency, the CFIUS, responsible for assessing the risks of any foreign investment for American national security.

“The quickest and most effective way to address these concerns (…) is for CFIUS to adopt the proposed agreement that we have been working with them on for almost two years,” said the TikTok spokesperson. .

The company stores US user data on servers located in the country. She admitted that employees based in China had access to it, but under a strict and limited framework, and not the Chinese government.

But for some elected officials, the problem goes deeper. Michael McCaul spoke of the risk that the platform’s powerful content recommendation algorithms are used to “influence younger generations”.

“TikTok allows the CCP to manipulate and monitor its users. It’s like a spy balloon on your phone,” he said.

A total ban, as in India since 2020, would anger many content creators and users, “but we are far enough from the next election that people have forgotten, and another app has taken over”, thinks Andrew Selepak, professor specializing in media and technology at the University of Florida.

“TikTok has already been banned by federal agencies, universities, political parties, the military… It would be pretty hypocritical to say that the privacy of the average American isn’t as important.”

with AFP

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