US House passes bill that could ban TikTok nationwide

The US House of Representatives has passed a landmark bill that could see TikTok banned in America.

It would give the social media giant’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, six months to sell its controlling stake or the app would be blocked in the US.

While the bill passed overwhelmingly in a bipartisan vote, it still needs to clear the Senate and be signed by the president to become law.

Lawmakers have long held concerns about China’s influence over TikTok.

TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, founded in 2012.

The Beijing-based firm is registered in the Cayman Islands, and has offices across Europe and the US.

If the bill does manage to secure approval in the Senate, President Joe Biden has promised to sign it as soon as it lands on his desk, which could prompt a diplomatic spat with China.

ByteDance would have to seek approval from Chinese officials to complete a forced divestiture, which Beijing has vowed to oppose. Foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the move would “come back to bite the US”.

Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who co-authored the bill, said the US could not “take the risk of having a dominant news platform in America controlled or owned by a company that is beholden to the Chinese Communist Party”.

Chinese companies are subject to a national security law requiring them to share data with the government on request.

TikTok has tried to reassure regulators that it has taken steps to ensure the data of its 150 million users in the US has been walled off from ByteDance employees in China.

TikTok chief executive Shou Zi Chew said the company was committed to keeping its data secure and the platform “free from outside manipulation”.

He warned the bill, if passed, would mean a ban on the app in the US, giving “more power to a handful of other social media companies” and putting thousands of American jobs at risk.

However, an investigation by the Wall Street Journal in January found the system was still “porous”, with data being unofficially shared between TikTok in the US and ByteDance in China. High-profile cases, including one incident where ByteDance employees in China accessed a journalist’s data to track down their sources, have stoked concerns.

Speaking ahead of the vote, Hakeem Jeffries – the top Democrat in the House – welcomed the bill, saying it would decrease “the likelihood that TikTok user data is exploited and privacy undermined by a hostile foreign adversary”.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the chamber would now review the legislation.

Its prospects in the upper chamber of Congress are unclear in the wake of Republican White House candidate Donald Trump speaking out against the bill.

The former president, who tried to ban the app during his term in office, changed his position after a recent meeting with Republican donor Jeff Yass, who reportedly owns a minor stake in ByteDance.

Mr Trump’s opposition was echoed by some House members on Wednesday. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, wrote on social media that the bill could allow Congress to force the sale of other corporations by claiming to be protecting US data from foreign adversaries.

Source: BBC

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