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What to know about the proposed TikTok legislation| GuyWhoKnowsThings


House lawmakers are expected to vote starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday on legislation aimed at forcing ByteDance, the Chinese internet company, to sell its popular social media app TikTok.

The vote would be the latest development in a years-long cold war between the United States and China over who controls valuable technology, from computer chips to artificial intelligence. Lawmakers and the White House have expressed concern that Chinese ownership of TikTok poses a national security risk because Beijing could use the app to gain access to Americans' data or run a disinformation campaign.

If the House passes the bill, it faces an uncertain future in the Senate. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, has not yet committed to putting it to a vote.

Here's what you should know about the bill.

Many are concerned that the Chinese government could demand Americans' personal data from ByteDance and that, under Chinese law, ByteDance would have to comply.

Lawmakers, including Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican who co-led the bill, and Sen. Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, also say China could use TikTok's powerful algorithm to feed its users political propaganda. Christopher A. Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Avril Haines, director of national intelligence, have raised these concerns over the past year.

The bill, which Gallagher introduced with Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Illinois, has had bipartisan support.

TikTok says the concerns are unfounded. He notes that about 60 percent of the company is owned by global institutional investors, including financial giants Susquehanna International Group and BlackRock. It also says three Americans serve on its five-person board of directors. According to the company, it has spent more than $1 billion on a scheme that stores sensitive data of US users nationwide on servers operated by Oracle, the US cloud computing company.

Basically, the bill says that TikTok must be sold within six months to a buyer who satisfies the US government. The sale would have to ensure that ByteDance no longer has any control over TikTok or its algorithms that recommend content to users.

If ByteDance cannot or refuses to sell TikTok, it would be illegal for app stores and web hosting companies to distribute or update the app in the United States. The Justice Department could punish any company that works with TikTok or offers its app for download.

Probably not.

With 170 million users in the United States alone, TikTok would have a high price tag, which few companies or individuals could afford. If forced to sell, it is also unclear whether ByteDance would put the app's entire global footprint up for sale or just its US operation.

Some of the companies that could potentially afford to buy TikTok are tech giants like Microsoft, Google and Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram. But the Biden administration has repeatedly tried, using antitrust law, to stop those companies from growing.

Even if ByteDance could find a buyer for TikTok, China may not allow a sale to happen. In 2020, when US officials first tried to force the sale of TikTok, Beijing imposed export restrictions about technology that sounded similar to TikTok's content recommendation algorithm. Last year, Beijing he said he would oppose a sale.

“You won't be able to force ByteDance to divest,” said James Lewis, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Support for the ban has been bipartisan, as both Republicans and Democrats have been concerned about China's influence.

But in a surprise move, former President Donald J. Trump opposed the TikTok legislation in recent days. That was a change from his position on the app in 2020, when he attempted to ban it.

“Trump's opposition is a significant new obstacle to this bill becoming law,” said Paul Gallant, policy analyst at TD Cowen. “A lot will depend on whether he goes to the mat with this TikTok bill like he did with the border security bill.”

Free speech groups have also opposed the bill, saying they are concerned that a ban would shut down expression.

If the bill passes the House and Senate and the president signs it into law, it would impose civil penalties on app stores, such as those operated by Apple and Google, if they distributed or updated TikTok.

The app is already on millions of phones in the United States, but restricting updates is likely to degrade users' ability to access it.

This would be complemented by a measure prohibiting web hosting companies from helping to distribute the application.


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