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U.S. wants TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance to divest over security. Is it too late? – National

TikTok is once again facing calls for a sale from its China-based parent company over national security concerns that have prompted Western governments to ban the popular video-sharing app.

But forcing ByteDance to sell its most prized asset, experts say, would likely take years, face legal troubles, and is already used by more than a billion people worldwide each month. and it may be too late for apps that have become an important resource for young people. and advertisers.

Associate Professor of Media Studies at the University of Virginia Human Trafficking Data: How China Wins the Battle for Digital Sovereignty.

“I think this is probably the first salvo to try to increase overall protection for apps.”

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The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) — part of the Treasury Department — threatened a U.S. ban on the app unless ByteDance sold its stake.

The White House did not confirm the request, but press secretary Carine Jean-Pierre told reporters that the Biden administration “as we have said many times before is concerned about this particular software platform. There are,” he said.

Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have warned that ByteDance may share TikTok user data, including browsing history, location and biometric identifiers, with China’s authoritarian government.

A 2017 Chinese law requires companies to provide the government with personal data relevant to national security, but the law itself is vague on what the criteria are.

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There is no evidence that TikTok submitted such data, China’s foreign ministry said in response to a report on Thursday, accusing the United States of trying to spread disinformation about data security and stifle the app’s success. .

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But ByteDance itself has come under heavy scrutiny since December.He said his company laid off four employees. We accessed data from two journalists from Buzzfeed News and The Financial Times in an attempt to determine the source of leaked reports about the company.

In a statement to Global News, TikTok denied the Wall Street Journal report, and a spokesperson said the divestment would not address broader concerns.

“If the purpose is to protect national security, the sale will not solve the problem. The change of ownership will not impose new restrictions on data flow or access,” said Maureen Shanahan. says.

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Instead, TikTok is asking U.S. lawmakers to back its “Project Texas” data security regime, which would store U.S. user data locally with “robust third-party oversight.” It launched a similar strategy in Europe called Project Clover.

That hasn’t been enough to appease US lawmakers in Congress who are trying to pass legislation that would give the Biden administration the power to enact a nationwide ban on TikTok, and the White House is backing it.

But implementing the Project Texas strategy will take years, Kokas said. So is CFIUS’s ongoing National Security Review.

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Meanwhile, more countries are proceeding with bans on TikTok from government-issued mobile devices.

On Thursday, the UK joined the US, Canada, the European Union and Belgium in ordering the app to be removed from employee phones, calling the move a “precautionary measure”. New Zealand followed suit on Friday.

Provinces and provinces have also enacted bans within their own governments, although not all provinces in Canada and the United States.

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In Canada, TikTok is currently the subject of a joint investigation by the Federal Privacy Commissioner and the privacy watchdogs of Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta, which focuses on its data collection practices.

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A spokesman for the office of the Minister for Innovation, Science and Industry, François-Philippe Champagne, declined to confirm whether TikTok is currently subject to a national security review similar to CFIUS in Canada.

“The establishment of new businesses in Canada by non-Canadian people, including companies such as ByteDance (TikTok), is subject to review under the Canadian Investment Act,” Laurie Bouchard told Global News. .

“Due to ICA confidentiality provisions, we are unable to comment on the review.”

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Movement to ban TikTok grows

TikTok currently has offices in Toronto and Vancouver, among more than 200 offices ByteDance manages from its global headquarters in Beijing.

Randolph Munk, a Fellow of the Canada Global Affairs Institute who once led BlackBerry’s expansion into Asia, said how Canada and other Western nations are drawing a fine line between individual liberty and national security. He said he is addressing the question of whether we should move forward.

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“You always have this dilemma in the West, don’t you?” he said. “We believe in free speech and free competition in the marketplace, but we do not want our data to be scooped and used for malicious purposes.”

He said Canada’s further actions against TikTok likely reflected its response to Chinese telecom companies Huawei and ZTE, which have been banned from Canada’s telecommunications and government networks.

“I suspect we will end up in the same place with TikTok, especially if the US moves to ban it,” he said.

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Any chance of a sale, or a ban in the US?

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump and his administration attempted to force ByteDance to sell its U.S. assets and ban TikTok from the app stores. withdrawn, but ordered a detailed investigation of the matter.

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Cokas said that if the White House resumes its push for a ban, it will most likely start again with First Amendment challenges by influencers whose income depends on the app.

A planned sale of TikTok’s U.S. assets was also shelved as the Biden administration negotiated a deal with TikTok to address some of its national security concerns.

If that deal fell through and the company was forced to sell, Kokas said it wouldn’t be unprecedented.

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In 2020, Chinese gaming company Beijing Kunlun Tech sold popular gay dating app Grindr to a group of investors amid US pressure. But that sale took over a year to complete, and he’s never been as popular as TikTok.

“This is, historically at least, a ‘hurry and wait’ process,” she said.

Ultimately, experts like Kokas believe the apps currently used by two-thirds of teens in the U.S. alone are the most likely path forward by tackling national security concerns head-on. , suggesting it may be too late to remove TikTok from the West. Overall.

She pointed out that the Indian government banned the app across India in 2020 amid border disputes with China. At the time, the app had more than 200 million users in India, but Kokas said it had not become an integral part of her digital ecosystem in the way it has in the West.

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“I’m afraid I missed the ship,” she said.

— with additional files from Kyle Benning and AP

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