Is TikTok getting banned? Many headlines hint that a ban is coming, but is a complete ban of the platform in the US likely? Here’s what to know.
If this story seems familiar, that’s because it is — the whispers of a potential TikTok ban have been in the air since 2020. TikTok is owned by the Chinese IT company ByteDance, which has long been of concern within the US government due to the Chinese government’s authority to request data from any company within its jurisdiction.
The Whole ‘Is TikTok Getting Banned?’ Timeline
July 2020: TikTok positions itself for the possibility of being sold back to an American company, instating an American CEO and ensuring that its data centers are not in China, separating its American operations from its Chinese parent company. The American version of TikTok was originally an American company called Musical.ly which ByteDance purchased in 2017.
August 2020: Donald Trump signs an executive order banning TikTok if the platform is not sold to an American company within 45 days—investors, including Oracle, express interest in a bid to purchase TikTok’s US operation.
September 2020: To prevent the platform’s impending ban, TikTok files an injunction to stall. The ban is pushed back as a result.
December 2020: The Trump administration’s TikTok ban is blocked by a federal judge, citing a lack of a “reasonable alternative” to the platform, while lawmakers call the proposed ban “arbitrary” as Trump’s term nears its end.
June 2021: Under the Biden administration, the Trump administration’s attempts to ban TikTok are dropped. The new administration calls for a review of apps like TikTok to take an “evidence-based approach” to identify security threats.
June 2022: Although TikTok claimed in 2020 that it had relocated its American data to US-based servers in Virginia, it continues to back up user data in Singapore until 2022, when it officially transfers all American traffic to US-based Oracle servers. TikTok claims the Chinese government never accessed US data, despite rumors.
December 2022: TikTok announces new security measures, such as a “Trust and Safety Team” in the US to protect user data, overseen by national security agencies. Forbes releases a report stating that “ByteDance confirmed it used TikTok to monitor (Forbes) journalists’ physical location using their IP addresses.” Lawmakers propose bipartisan legislation to ban TikTok from federal devices. TikTok becomes restricted from the devices of all federal government employees, with some exceptions for research and law enforcement purposes.
Now in 2023:
The US House Foreign Affairs Committee voted to give President Biden approval for a blanket ban on TikTok, which Reuters reported would constitute “the most far-reaching US restriction on any social media app.” TikTok called the legislation “rushed” in an official statement calling the proposed ban a “considerable negative impact on the free speech rights of millions of Americans.”
Bloomberg reported that TikTok divesting from ByteDance is still considered a “last resort” but remains a possibility. Based on ByteDance’s $220 billion valuation, Bloomberg estimated TikTok’s US-based business is worth between $40 billion and $50 billion.
On March 23, 2023, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared before Congress to respond to questions and concerns related to user data and what TikTok or ByteDance might do with it. Analysts have called Chew’s testimony “a disaster moment” that may escalate the need to sell TikTok to a US company or risk a complete ban by the end of 2023 — but the legal mechanics behind such a ban are unclear.
“The FCC can’t do it (no jurisdiction). Despite the supposed national security threat, the Pentagon can’t do it (ditto),” writes Devin Coldewey in TechCrunch. “The feds can’t force Apple and Google to do it (First Amendment). Congress won’t do it (see above). An executive order won’t do it (too broad). No judge will do it (no plausible case). All paths to bans are impractical for one reason or another.”
Though the logistics of a nationwide ban might seem untenable, an increasing number of governments have banned TikTok from devices issued to staff, citing privacy and cybersecurity concerns.
Countries whose governments have implemented total or partial bans on TikTok as of 2023 include Afghanistan, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, India, Latvia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Taiwan, the UK, and the European Union’s Parliament, European Commission, and the EU Council.
At the beginning of March, the US gave government agencies 30 days to delete TikTok from federal devices and systems. More than half of the US states have banned the app from state-issued devices, though many lawmakers continue to advocate for an outright ban. Congress and the US armed forces have long prohibited apps from foreign governments on official devices.