Chronology of TikTok being blocked in the US, From the Trump Era to Biden


The Joe Biden administration has determined the fate of TikTok in the United States. Today, Thursday (14/3), the United States legislative body has agreed on a law that forces ByteDance to sell TikTok. If still under Chinese ownership, TikTok faces the threat of being blocked in the US. Previously, President Biden stated that he would sign the rule if it passed and was approved by the US House of Representatives.

The strict rule from the US government is due to fears that TikTok could be used as a tool for Chinese propaganda. This concern was voiced by FBI Director Chris Wray, who expressed worry about TikTok's operations in the US during a hearing on global threats before the House Homeland Security Committee, as quoted by CNBC International.

Wray stated that the FBI is concerned that China has the capability to control the application's recommendation algorithm, which could allow them to manipulate content and potentially influence conditions in a country.

He also emphasized that China could use the app to gather user data that could be exploited for espionage operations.

TikTok has repeatedly denied accusations from the US government. According to the service, no user information is shared with the Chinese government.

In fact, TikTok is willing to provide user data for examination by qualified US research teams as a form of service transparency.

The issue of blocking TikTok emerged during the Trump Era. While serving as President of the United States, Trump spearheaded initial efforts to ban TikTok's operations with an executive order in 2020, citing national security concerns.

He pushed for acquisition by Microsoft, but the attempt failed. Software giant Oracle then offered to become TikTok's technology partner in the US.

After facing considerable pressure, TikTok agreed to protect US data through an alliance with Oracle.

According to Oracle's press release at the time, part of the deal required TikTok to establish a new company called TikTok Global to provide all services to users in the US and the majority of users worldwide.

As part of the agreement, the US government temporarily approved a significant deal that would make Oracle a secure cloud vendor for TikTok.

Majority shareholders of TikTok Global would include several US investors, including Oracle and Walmart. TikTok Global would be an independent US-based company headquartered in the US. Meanwhile, four out of five directors of TikTok Global would be US citizens.

TikTok Global was said to create over 25,000 new jobs in the US and contribute over $5 billion in taxes to the US government budget.

Project Texas

In June 2022, after long-standing pressure from the US government, TikTok began routing all user data in the US to Oracle's cloud infrastructure.

Oracle then began reviewing TikTok's algorithms and content moderation models to ensure there was no manipulation from Chinese authorities.

This move was part of Project Texas, a $1.5 billion plan aimed at reassuring US citizens that TikTok is safe, their data is secure, and the platform is free from outside influence. The project's name refers to Oracle's headquarters in Texas.

TikTok had been preparing Project Texas for over a year by separating its backend operations and code in the US.

Biden Administration Actions

The Biden administration sought to regulate TikTok and banned the app from government devices in February 2023.

In March 2023, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew appeared for the first time in a hearing before members of parliament. He testified and defended the company, requesting a suspension of the ban imposed by the US government.

At that time, Chew repeatedly denied TikTok's relationship with the Chinese government and referred to TikTok's data security practices, which he claimed were unprecedented compared to unnamed social media competitors.

However, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee supported a full ban of the app in the US.

State-Level TikTok Bans

In May 2023, Montana became the first US state to sign a law banning TikTok.

This occurred as several other Republican-controlled states had banned TikTok on government-issued devices, but Montana was the first state to impose a total ban on the app.

New Rules Passed, TikTok Faces Blocking

Congress continued to discuss a bill that could hobble TikTok. A House committee unanimously voted last week to advance a bipartisan bill that would force ByteDance to divest its ownership of the TikTok app within 165 days.

And the rule has now been passed. Reuters reported that the content of the bill passed by the US House of Representatives Congress requires ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, to divest their shares in TikTok within the next 6 months.

The bill was passed with the support of the two largest parties in the US, Democrats and Republicans, with a vote of 352-65. However, the regulation could potentially face obstacles in the US Senate. According to Reuters, some members of the US Senate prefer a different approach regarding TikTok's threat to US national security.

"We are working hard to educate the Senate on the impact of this bill on over 170 million US users of our services. Our strategy remains the same; we believe that the best way to address national security concerns is through transparent, US-based user data protection," TikTok management said in an internal memo quoted by Reuters.

The fate of TikTok is under scrutiny in Washington DC. Several members of the US Congress have stated that their offices have been inundated with calls from teenage TikTok users opposing the regulation. Complaints about TikTok even outnumbered calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.

"The process is very secretive, and this law is being enforced for one reason, to block," a TikTok spokesperson said.

TikTok is one of several targets of the US government in their efforts to contain what they perceive as China's threatening influence on national security. Other targets include IoT technology in motor vehicles, AI chips, and giant cranes in US ports.

Senator Maria Cantwell, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, stated that she wants to ensure that the regulations passed can withstand legal challenges.

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