Western governments have recently put TikTok and its parent company ByteDance under increased scrutiny due to the risks that it may impose.
The White House is now backing legislation to give the US administration the power to ban TikTok as well as other foreign-based technologies.
Many cybersecurity experts have expressed their worries over TikTok. This is mostly due to its data-harvesting practices and its potential use for spreading Chinese propaganda.
Earlier in February, at least half of the US states had already blocked TikTok on government-issued devices.
Update on the Restrict Act 2023 – March 29, 2023
After US senators Mark Warner and John Thune first introduced the new bill with 10 other senators, the Biden administration has requested that ByteDance sells the app or else face a nationwide TikTok ban.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew has since testified before the congress. The goal was to dispel concerns over the app’s connection to the Chinese government. He presented the company’s “Project Texas,” which aims to transfer US user data to American soil.
However, the lawmakers were unmoved by Chew’s testimony. The nationwide ban is now contingent on the passage of the Restrict Act. The Biden administration is under pressure to impose the block, and the move would be unlikely without a new law.
The new act is a bipartisan bill that grants the Commerce Department the right to impose bans on foreign technology it deems a national security risk. Lawyers and watchers have said that this would circumvent the free speech protections that exist in US law.
The Restrict Act and VPN usage
Initially only seen as the “TikTok Ban Bill,” the Restrict Act actually has wider ramifications. According to the document, it could also lead to some VPN users facing fines and jail sentences.
Although it never mentions this tech directly, the bill discusses the consequences of bypassing the blockade. It’s very likely that this refers to users who rely on VPNs to still access TikTok or other banned platforms.
The Restrict Act mentions that those who circumvent the new restrictions could face penalties of up to $1,000,000 and 20 years in prison.
The document also includes a long list of communications technologies it targets. Some of them are:
- Web hosting
- Payment applications
- Gaming applications
- Artificial intelligence
Those opposing the act say it gives the US government the power to police the entire internet, and that the legislation is actually similar to that in China.
The new bill
Over a dozen senators have introduced new legislation (bill S.686) that would empower the US Commerce Department to impose restrictions on and ban technologies that put national security at risk.
Democratic Senator Mark Warner has confirmed that this includes TikTok and similar technologies from several countries:
- North Korea
He also stated that it’s crucial for the government to act and identify any national security risks. The White House has since backed the legislation.
The national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the bill would help the country address discrete and systematic risks involving countries of concern.
However, banning an app that over 100 million Americans use to express themselves and consume news could be a violation of the First Amendment.
A similar move was blocked when the Trump administration wanted Apple and Google to remove WeChat from their stores.
Still, the new bipartisan bill means the US is one step closer to introducing a total TikTok ban across the country. It would also be a stepping stone for blocking other apps entirely.
Whether or not that will happen is difficult to say at the moment.
The ByteDance response
The company behind TikTok, ByteDance, has already criticized the US Senate bill empowering the platform’s ban.
It claims that any potential restrictions are a “ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people.”
ByteDance has previously stated that it invested over $1.5 billion in rigorous data security efforts. In addition, it rejected all spying allegations.
The company also expressed its concerns over being held to an unfair standard compared to other popular platforms that gather data in the same ways.
Should you continue using TikTok?
How you decide to protect your privacy is up to you.
Although TikTok has been accused of stealing information, it’s hard to say whether it’s any different from other data-hungry platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram.
Using a VPN to access TikTok can help you stay safe as it will hide your IP address and location.
It’s entirely acceptable to do so as the platform’s Terms of Service don’t state it’s against the rules.
If you fail to load TikTok videos while using a VPN, there are several tested solutions that can help.