Is TikTok getting banned? Here's what you need to know

What does this mean for the estimated 100 million American TikTok users?
By Leila Roker

When people first heard about the social media platform TikTok, they were scratching their heads. Isn’t it just a newer version of Vine? Fast-forward a couple years later, and it seems every brand has been flocking to TikTok to tap into its estimated 1 billion active users worldwide.

Just when it seemed like everyone was looking to TikTok for some much-needed entertainment while stuck at home during coronavirus, the app is making headlines for potentially being banned in the U.S. So what exactly is the “threat” of TikTok, and what does this mean for its estimated 100 million American TikTok users? And why are companies like Oracle and Microsoft running to fund a U.S. server for the popular app?

Formerly known as Musical.ly, the app was bought by Chinese tech giant ByteDance for $1 billion in 2017. It was officially relaunched as TikTok in 2018. Since its reinvention, it’s become a popular video app for its skits and dance challenges as well as a destination for young stars and advertisers alike. According to the research firm Marketing North, 41% of the app’s audience demographic is between the ages 16 and 24. Most of these users are outside of China, considering TikTok is banned in the country. Instead, TikTok has developed a Chinese version of the app called Douyin for its citizens. Marketing North also shared that many advertisers find TikTok to be an appealing platform because the rules are still being written, which ultimately means it’s a free market for brands.

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But the Trump administration raised concerns about the app’s approach to privacy and data, mostly due to the potential for ByteDance to adhere to China’s political motivations or moderate speech. It’s particularly confusing to understand how this data is being used and who has access to it, considering this app doesn’t exist in China. TikTok’s privacy policy states that it has access to information including but not limited to:

  • Registration information (age, username, password, language, email or phone number)
  • Profile information (name, social media account information and profile image)
  • User-generated content
  • Payment information

The app also uses the information from users’ linked social networks, data from IP addresses, location data and even information from third-party platforms, as reported in The Independent.

So where does the ban come in?

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the U.S. is looking at banning the app because TikTok puts American users’ “private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party." Some senators have been taking it upon themselves to encourage staff to delete the app, like Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, who also introduced legislation against. Some companies, including Wells Fargo, have told their staffers to delete TikTok from their work phones in light of surveillance or espionage concerns.

While many of the privacy policies are not out of the ordinary for social media platforms, the app's connection to China seems to be the most worrying for government officials. India is also in motion to ban TikTok for its data policies in connection to China.

White House adviser Peter Navarro said he expects President Trump to take “strong action” against the Chinese app. The U.S. government has the option to legally separate TikTok from its parent company, ByteDance, like they did in 2019 with Grindr, but Navarro added that it would come at the cost of giving “China billions of dollars for the privilege of having TikTok operate on U.S. soil.” Since these claims, President Trump issued an executive order urging for an American company to buy TikTok’s U.S. servers by Sept. 20, or it will be banned. Microsoft and Oracle have both entered in the running to foot the bill for the servers and own the U.S. division of TikTok.

It remains to be seen what will happen to TikTok, but with its large following, the popular video app may be here to stay.