TikTok sale or ban nears certainty as US Senate approves bill

The future of TikTok in the US is on the verge of a major shift. The Senate passed a foreign aid package that includes a provision forcing ByteDance, the China-based owner of TikTok, to sell the platform. This move brings the possibility of a US ban on TikTok a significant step closer.

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President Biden, who previously expressed support for the legislation, is expected to sign the bill. Once signed, ByteDance will have up to a year to find a US buyer for TikTok or face an effective ban. The initial deadline is nine months, with the possibility of a three-month extension if progress towards a sale is evident. Legal challenges could, however, delay enforcement.

This outcome is the culmination of efforts by the House of Representatives, which twice passed the TikTok divestiture bill. The first attempt, with a shorter deadline for selling the app, gained strong support in the House but faced uncertainty in the Senate. The House’s second attempt cleverly packaged the TikTok legislation within a critical foreign aid bill, effectively pressuring the Senate to address the issue. This strategy, combined with a longer timeframe for finding a buyer, secured broader Senate approval (79-18).

National security concerns fuelled the push for a TikTok sale. Lawmakers worry that China’s national security laws could compel ByteDance to hand over user data collected by TikTok. While TikTok emphasizes its Singapore headquarters and claims US user data is not stored in China, some officials fear possible manipulation of content or influence on user information.

“We’re not punishing a company,” stated Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) before the vote. “We’re acting to protect Americans from potential espionage, surveillance, and influence campaigns.”

Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) emphasized the potential for misuse by an authoritarian government. He pointed out the inadequacy of proposed solutions like Project Texas, which wouldn’t address concerns about data governance and algorithms remaining under Chinese control.

However, Warner acknowledged the anxieties of young Americans who rely on TikTok. He assured them that this isn’t about censorship and expressed hope for continued operation under new, potentially US-based ownership.

President Biden echoed this sentiment, highlighting the urgency of delivering aid to Ukraine while expressing his intention to sign the bill and address the public soon after.