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Congress passed a bill that could ban TikTok. Now comes the hard part.| GuyWhoKnowsThings


On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that would force its Chinese owner, ByteDance, to sell TikTok, or ban it entirely, and President Biden is expected to quickly sign it into law.

Now the process is likely to become even more complicated.

Congress approved the measure citing national security concerns due to TikTok's ties to China. Lawmakers and security experts alike have said there are risks that the Chinese government could rely on ByteDance to access sensitive data belonging to its 170 million American users or to spread propaganda.

The proposed law would allow TikTok to continue operating in the United States if ByteDance sold it within 270 days, or about nine months, a period the president could extend to a year.

The move is likely to face legal challenges, as well as possible resistance from Beijing, which could block the sale or export of the technology. It's also unclear who has the resources to buy TikTok, as it will come with a hefty price tag.

The issue could take months or even years to resolve, during which the app would likely continue to work for US consumers.

“It's going to be a real disaster,” said Anupam Chander, a visiting scholar at Harvard's Social Media Reboot Institute and an expert on the global regulation of new technologies.

Here's what you can expect next.

TikTok is likely to begin challenging the measure in court.

“I think that's the only certainty: There will be litigation,” said Jeff Kosseff, an associate professor of cybersecurity law at the Naval Academy.

TikTok's case will likely rest on the First Amendment, legal experts said. The company is expected to argue that a forced sale could violate the free speech rights of its users because a new owner could change the app's content policies and reshape what users can freely share on the platform.

“Fortunately, we have a Constitution in this country, and people's First Amendment rights are very important,” said Michael Beckerman, TikTok's vice president of public policy, in an interview with a creator on the platform last week. “We will continue to fight for you and all other TikTok users.”

Other groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which has openly opposed the bill, could also join the legal fight. An ACLU spokeswoman said Tuesday that the group was still weighing its role in potential litigation challenging the law.

The government will likely have to make strong arguments that ByteDance's ownership of TikTok makes it necessary to limit speech due to national security concerns, legal experts said.

TikTok already has a strong track record in similar First Amendment battles. When he was president, Donald J. Trump tried to force the sale or ban of the app in 2020, but federal judges blocked the effort because it would have had the effect of closing a “platform for expressive activity.” Mountain tried to ban TikTok in the state last year due to Chinese ownership of the app, but a different federal judge ruled against the state law for similar reasons.

Only a stricter restriction on TikTok has survived a court challenge. The governor of Texas announced a ban on the app on state government devices and networks in 2022 due to its Chinese ownership and data privacy concerns. Public university professors. challenged the ban in court last year, saying it prevented them from conducting investigations into the app. a federal judge maintained the state ban in December, finding it was a “reasonable restriction” in light of Texas' concerns and the limited scope affecting only state employees.

Analysts estimate that the price of the US part of TikTok could reach tens of billions of dollars.

ByteDance itself is one of the most valuable startups in the worldworth an estimated $225 billion, according to CB Insights, a firm that tracks venture capital and startups.

The high price would limit the list of who could afford TikTok. Tech giants like Meta or Google probably wouldn't be able to make an acquisition due to antitrust concerns.

Private equity firms or other investors could form a group to raise enough money to buy TikTok. Former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in March I wanted to form a group like that. And anyone who can put up the money still has to pass an evaluation with the U.S. government, which must approve any purchase.

Few others have expressed public interest in purchasing the app.

The last time the government tried to force ByteDance to sell TikTok in 2020, the company held talks with Microsoft and software company Oracle. (Oracle and Walmart finally appeared to reach a deal with ByteDance, But the deal never materialized..)

Even if TikTok moves closer to a sale, the process of separating TikTok from ByteDance is likely to be complicated.

The legislation prohibits any connection between ByteDance and TikTok after a sale. However, TikTok employees use ByteDance software in their communications, and the company's employees are global, with executives in Singapore, Dublin, Los Angeles, and Mountain View, California.

It's unclear whether ByteDance would consider selling TikTok's entire global footprint or just its U.S. operations, where the company has nearly 7,000 employees.

Breaking up just the US part of TikTok could prove particularly challenging. The app's recommendation algorithm, which finds out what users like and delivers content, is key to the app's success. But Chinese engineers are working on that algorithm, owned by ByteDance.

During Trump's attempt to force a sale in 2020, the Chinese government export restrictions issued that appeared to require its regulators to grant permission before ByteDance's algorithms could be sold or licensed to third parties.

Uncertainty around the export of ByteDance's algorithm and other technologies could also deter interested buyers.

The Chinese government could also try to block a sale of TikTok.

Chinese officials criticized a similar bill after the House passed it in March, although they have not yet said whether they would block a divestment. About a year ago, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce he said he would “Strongly oppose” ByteDance's sale of the app.

Chinese export regulations appear to cover TikTok's content recommendation algorithm, giving Beijing a say over whether ByteDance could sell or license the app's most valuable feature.

“It is by no means a foregone conclusion” that China will allow a sale, said Lindsay Gorman, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund who specializes in emerging technology and China.

China may retaliate against American companies. On Friday, the Cyberspace Administration of China asked Apple to delete WhatsApp and Meta threads from your App Store, depending on the iPhone manufacturer. The Chinese government cited national security reasons when making the demand.




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