Former White House CIO warns that the tech industry should prepare for a TikTok ban


A hot potato: Could the TikTok bill, which would force owner ByteDance to sell the app or face a block from US app stores and web hosting platforms, become law? Former White House Chief Information Officer (CIO) Theresa Payton warns that US tech firms should prepare for the worst as ByteDance may not willingly divest its wildly popular app.

The Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act was passed by Congress last month. If it comes into effect, Chinese owner ByteDance will be forced to divest TikTok within about 180 days; otherwise, the app will be blocked in the US. That could involve ISPs blocking traffic to TikTok, social networks might be forced to stop videos from the app being shared, and app stores will have to put TikTok on the banned list.

President Biden gave his blessing to the bill a few days after it was passed by Congress. However, it’s facing delays in the Senate and there’s plenty of pushback from critics citing First Amendment rights – a judge blocked a state-wide ban on TikTok in Montana in December over free-speech concerns.

In an interview with The Register, Payton said the likelihood of China blocking TikTok’s divestment and the short amount of time it would be given to complete such a massive deal means a ban looks likely if the bill passes.

“I don’t know about you, but I can think of very few major transactions that can happen in 180 days,” Payton said.

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A TikTok ban could have a huge impact on US companies beyond the domestic implications. It would also affect diplomatic relations with China, which does restrict/prohibit a lot of US products and services, as well as the American firms that do business there, such as Apple. “Pick an American icon company that builds things in China,” Payton told The Reg. “They could say ‘you’re no longer allowed to do business here and you need to divest.'”

TikTok, banned by most American government organizations over privacy concerns, has long claimed it has no links to the Chinese government. It repeatedly emphasizes that it now stores its US user data in its own data centers in the United States and has moved its infrastructure to Oracle. But Payton is worries that China’s law enforcement or government could one day demand ByteDance turn over TikTok data as part of an investigation.

Last month saw Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak say in an interview that he doesn’t understand the proposed TikTok ban. He also called out the US government for being hypocritical by targeting just one social media platform for tracking users when they all do it. The Woz said he gets a lot of entertainment out of watching TikTok clips, such as those of dog rescues.



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