Credit: Stanislav Kogiku / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

The U.S. is striving to ban TikTok once again — and potentially all Chinese apps. Let’s see what unfolds.

A new bipartisan bill brought to the House of Representatives on Tuesday aims to prohibit “foreign adversary controlled applications,” possibly eliminating apps originating from China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran from U.S. app stores. While broad in scope, the primary target of the proposed act is the video-sharing app TikTok and its Chinese parent company ByteDance, specifically naming both entities.

“As long as it is owned by ByteDance and required to collaborate with the [Chinese Communist Party], TikTok poses significant threats to our national security,” stated Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, the bill’s introducer, along with Chairman Mike Gallagher.


TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is Singaporean, not Chinese. Somebody please convince Senator Tom Cotton.

If approved, the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act could levy fines of up to $5,000 per user on apps that continue to operate within the U.S. under the control of a foreign adversary. The bill defines a company as “controlled by a foreign adversary” if it is incorporated, headquartered, or primarily conducts business in China, North Korea, Russia, or Iran, or if it is at least 20 percent owned by such an entity.

With 150 million U.S. users as of March last year (now including President Joe Biden), TikTok could face fines totaling around $750 billion — more than three times ByteDance’s October valuation.

Apps impacted by this law would only be allowed to continue operations in the U.S. if they divest foreign adversary control. This means that if the bill passes, ByteDance would need to sell TikTok to a company deemed free of such influence by the President or completely withdraw from the U.S. market.

“TikTok is Communist Chinese malware that is poisoning the minds of our next generation and giving the CCP unfettered access to troves of Americans’ data,” stated Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, in a press release.

Mashable has reached out to the Select Committee on the CCP for comment.

‘An outright ban of TikTok’

In this photo illustration, a TikTok logo is seen displayed on a smartphone screen.

Credit: Pavlo Gonchar / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

TikTok has consistently asserted that despite its origins in China, it operates independently of the Chinese government, has not shared any American data with Chinese authorities, and would not do so even if requested. Unfortunately, these assurances have not lessened U.S. lawmakers’ concerns nor their efforts to block the app.

Several bans have been proposed against TikTok dating back to 2019, but they have mostly been unsuccessful. Most recently, Montana’s TikTok ban was overturned in December after a judge ruled it unconstitutional, citing suppression of free speech and unjust punishment of the company without a fair trial.


Which countries have banned TikTok?

“This bill is an outright ban of TikTok, regardless of any disguises its authors may use,” TikTok commented on the new proposed legislation. “This law will infringe on the First Amendment rights of 170 million Americans and deprive 5 million small businesses of a platform they rely on to expand and create jobs.”

A TikTok spokesperson referred Mashable back to this statement for further comment.

An outright ban on TikTok may seem like an extreme and fearful response, however, this does not negate legitimate security concerns surrounding the app. In 2022, ByteDance’s internal investigation discovered that four employees in China had inappropriately accessed TikTok data belonging to two U.S. journalists. TikTok addressed this by investing $1.5 billion and deploying 2,000 employees into Project Texas, an effort to segregate American users’ data and store it with American company Oracle in the U.S.

“Even if the Chinese government were to request U.S. user data, [once Project Texas is fully implemented] it would not be possible for TikTok or ByteDance to comply,” states TikTok’s U.S. Data Security website.

Commentators have also raised concerns about Chinese authorities’ treatment of local business executives for not aligning with the government’s stance, fueling speculation that such issues could lead TikTok to yield to governmental pressure. However, this is a weak rationale for targeting the video-sharing app, as similar pressure could theoretically be exerted on all Chinese corporations.

A ban on all Chinese apps?

In this photo illustration, the WeChat app is displayed in the App Store on an iPhone.

Credit: Sheldon Cooper / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images

It’s unclear why U.S. lawmakers believe TikTok has more significant ties to the Chinese government compared to other popular Chinese-based apps. Although the U.S. abandoned an attempt to ban the Chinese messaging app WeChat in 2021, TikTok has remained under close scrutiny for years.

However, Tuesday’s proposed bill could potentially impact all Chinese apps collectively, including WeChat, shopping apps like Temu and AliExpress, as well as the popular mobile game Honkai: Star Rail. Given the broad definition of foreign adversary control in the bill, all these apps might be subject to the ban and compelled to exit the U.S. market together.

Fortunately, the bill does set some boundaries on which apps it affects. While it does not explicitly mention “social media,” the legislation specifies that it only applies to apps that enable users to create a profile to share content such as text, videos, or images with other users and have over one million monthly active users. Commerce websites and video games technically fit this description, while messaging apps like WeChat would undoubtedly fall within its scope. The actual application of the legislation awaits further clarification.

Chinese tech firms are not inherently less secure than companies from other countries. For instance, Amazon-owned Ring formerly shared users’ data with U.S. law enforcement without a warrant (though the concerns about potential U.S. government surveillance have not raised the same alarms as fear around Chinese government data access).

However, it’s always essential to be cautious about the information you share, regardless of the origin of the technology you use.

UPDATE: Mar. 7, 2024, 9:40 a.m. AEDT This article has been updated with comment from TikTok.


Amanda Yeo

Amanda Yeo

Amanda Yeo is Mashable’s Australian reporter, covering entertainment, culture, tech, science, and social good. This includes everything from video games and K-pop to movies and gadgets.


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