Will TikTok Pull Out Of The US?

On Wednesday, The US Senate recently voted to pass legislation that would ban TikTok unless its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, sells the app to a US entity.

This bill, passed by a majority of senate, states that ByteDance must sell TikTok within a year or be removed from US app stores. Now ,that same bill has been signed into law by US President Joe Biden, meaning the clock is ticking for ByteDance.


TikTok’s Large US Audience


According to research by Statista, as of Jan 2024, the US was the country with the largest TikTok audience in the world, with almost 150 million users on the platform.

As reported by Reuters, ByteDance, the parent company that owns TikTok, reported revenue of about $16 billion last year in the US – making it a huge market for the company.

Not only could this be bad for TikTok’s parent company, but thousands of businesses and creators rely on TikTok for their income across the US, meaning it could also have negative economic effects for businesses nationwide.

If it did pass, it would mean that the Google Play Store and The Apple App Store would have to stop offering TikTok for download through their platforms, or face financial fines.


A New Development


However, as reported by Reuters yesterday, ByteDance have said they would prefer to shut down the app rather than sell it to a US entity if it comes down to it.

Given TikTok is just a small share of ByteDance’s overall revenue, and its algorithm is of more value to the company than the user base, it is seeming increasingly unlikely that ByteDance will give up the algorithm to a US company.

This could be a momentous occasion, as the tech company, that powers a chunk of the US economy, and the government, will be locking horns.

In any case, creators and users alike will be watching the ruling with baited breath.


Why Is The Ban Happening?


The ban on TikTok is driven mainly by concerns over national security and data privacy, driven by a long standing US-Chinese rivalry.

In fact, key figures in the US are worries that the Chinese-owned app could hand over sensitives data to the Chinese government, giving them useful insights into the US. This has been driven forward by wider tensions brewing between the US and China, with officials increasingly worrying about how Chinese tech devices and apps could given them control over important data.

But the legislation doesn’t mean TikTok will be banned altogether. What it aims to do is encourage TikTok’s US arm to be sold to an American company, meaning the data is kept on home soil.


What Other Countries Is TikTok Banned In?


Whilst TikTok has not been banned in many other countries on a national scale, many governments have banned country officials from using it on their phones.

These countries include Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, The Netherlands and New Zealand amongst others.

This shows the wider paranoia about how the company might be using the app to gather important data, making it a national security concern.


What Do The Experts Say?


Matt Hmoud, Head of Security Consulting at Adarma

“The security of US data has been an ongoing debate between the US Government and TikTok over the past year. TikTok believes they have taken all the necessary steps to satisfy the US government’s concerns, routing all US traffic through Oracle cloud infrastructure, standing up a dedicated US Data Security (USDS) to strengthen and oversee the data protection policies and procedures and building out a US-based engineering team to reduce the amount of data needed to be shared by its global engineering teams.

“TikTok’s operating model is not unlike many global organisations, with dispersed global teams who share, access and collaborate on data for the delivery of services, and like other global organisations TikTok shared in a post from 2022 that they had implemented the globally recognised ISO 27001 Certification, and iOXt alliance certified Tik Tok for meeting rigorous standards and commitments to cybersecurity, transparency, and privacy.

“The US government’s main concern appears to stem from their threat intelligence around Chinese policy, which requires organisations to share any national security data with the government. The US believes TikToks parent company, Byte Dance (also recognised by iOXT), 2which is Chinese owned company, could leverage its position to gain access to US Citizens’ data such as browsing history, location, IP addresses, and biometric identifiers regardless of security controls implemented or the geographical location of data storage.

“While the case against TikTok is well-publicised, if a ban were implemented, it would not be the first time a country has banned an app. X (formerly Twitter), Google, YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Twitch are all blocked in China. These apps have a reputation for censoring access to information and freedom of speech, which Civil liberty groups argue infringes on the First Amendment.

“The US grievance against TikTok is an interesting one that the cybersecurity community should follow closely and shows how binary controls are no longer sufficient to protect your assets and information and how assessing your supply chain cannot solely rely on compliance with internationally recognised security standards and frameworks.

“With the rise of global digitalisation, cybercrime, and state-sponsored actors, you can no longer rely on a binary approach to cybersecurity. Instead, it’s critical to implement threat intelligence into your cyber defences to establish a clear understanding of the threats to your organisation and the appropriate controls to mitigate against them.”

Tim Ward, CEO and Co-Founder at Think Cyber Security

“While the US bill to ban TikTok is driven by national security concerns, the US/China trade war component masks a bigger issue – that any non-authorised or personal tools used within a work context can present a security risk. Posting company data deliberately or accidentally, reusing credentials, or even filming in an office with information visible on screens presents a risk. Banning TikTok may eliminate a small fraction of this risk, but it’s a sticking plaster on a much larger problem.

“To safeguard against threats, businesses and governments must accept that there is always a likelihood that users will access insecure platforms. Instead of focusing on banning specific technologies, the emphasis should therefore be placed on empowering people to spot red flags and stop unsafe behaviours which leave them exposed.”