Some Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are continuing to push for a nationwide ban for TikTok, with a bipartisan bill aimed at the popular Chinese-owned video-sharing app getting reintroduced in the Senate on Friday.
That measure, the Anti-Social CCP Act, is backed by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine. It comes after GOP Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said two weeks ago that his panel was working on a separate bill to ban TikTok in the U.S. and would vote on it in February.
Members of Congress are targeting the app, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance Ltd., over concerns that user data could be shared with the Chinese government. TikTok is already banned on all federal government smartphones.
“The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) potential to access TikTok user data and exploit American’s private information is an unacceptable national security risk. The company must either divest from dangerous foreign ownership, or we will take the necessary steps to protect Americans from potential foreign spying and misinformation operations,” said King, who typically votes with Senate Democrats, in a joint statement released Friday with Rubio.
So could TikTok actually get banned? So far, analysts haven’t sounded convinced on that point.
“Although there seems to be consensus from both parties in Congress and the White House on this issue, the greatest obstacle to action is not specific to TikTok but general gridlock in Washington. As a result, it is still too early to tell how easily legislation will be able to pass a divided Congress,” said Benjamin Salisbury, director of research at Height Capital Markets, in a note last week.
“One pitfall, for example, could be the desire of China hawks to add controversial unrelated or semi-related provisions” to a bill banning TikTok, he wrote. “As a result, we expect to see fits and starts of progress through the various Congressional committees, which will serve as a catalyst for the company’s ongoing negotiations with the Biden Administration, as well as the threat of executive action.”
BTIG’s Isaac Boltansky and Isabel Bandoroff also expressed skepticism in a note last month.
“We are confident that TikTok will face a steady barrage of headline risk in the coming year, including persistent calls for the app to be banned, but we are bearish on TikTok being banned in the near term given a series of procedural and practical hurdles,” the BTIG analysts wrote.
“On the practical front, TikTok is popular, especially among young voters who represent a central cog in the Democratic constituency,” they said.
A recent Wall Street Journal report described TikTok as the world’s most popular app, used by two-thirds of American teens, and noted that its addictive short-video format has left Silicon Valley companies scrambling to play catch-up.
Reports last fall said the Biden administration was considering executive action against TikTok. In 2021, administration officials dropped Trump-era executive orders that sought to ban TikTok and and another Chinese-owned app, WeChat, but they launched a new review of apps that could pose security risks.
TikTok has criticized efforts to ban the app, saying they take a “piecemeal approach to national security and a piecemeal approach to broad industry issues like data security, privacy, and online harms.”
In addition, TikTok’s parent company has ramped up its spending on Washington lobbying, shelling out at least $5.38 million in 2022, according to an OpenSecrets analysis of disclosures. That’s up from $5.18 million in 2021, $2.61 million in 2020 and just $270,000 in 2019.
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is slated to make his first appearance before a congressional committee on March 23, when he testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is chaired by Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state. She announced his upcoming appearance in a news release last week, saying he’ll testify about TikTok’s “consumer privacy and data security practices, the platforms’ impact on kids, and their relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.”