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TikTok's China-based parent required to sell platform or be banned in US

The Senate passed legislation Tuesday to force TikTok's China-based parent company, ByteDance, to sell the social media platform or be banned in the U.S.

The Senate passed a bill Tuesday to force TikTok's China-based parent company, ByteDance, to sell the video sharing social media platform or face a ban in the U.S., as lawmakers accuse the platform of collecting user data and spreading propaganda.

The TikTok legislation was part of a larger $95 billion package to provide foreign aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan that passed the Upper Chamber by a 79 to 18 vote. The package now heads to President Biden, who said he plans to sign it Wednesday.

House Republicans' decision last week to attach the TikTok bill to the foreign aid package helped expedite its passage, after an earlier version of the bill had stalled in the Senate. The Senate version would have given ByteDance six months to divest its stake in the platform, which some lawmakers believed was too short of a window for a complex deal potentially worth tens of billions of dollars.

The new measure gives ByteDance nine months to sell TikTok, as well as a possible three-month extension if a sale is in progress. The bill would also prohibit the company from controlling the algorithm that shows users videos based on their interests.


The passage of the legislation comes amid bipartisan fears in Congress over Chinese threats, which includes the ownership of TikTok. Lawmakers and administration officials have expressed concerns for years that Chinese officials could force ByteDance to provide U.S. user data and influence Americans by promoting certain content on the platform.

"Congress is not acting to punish ByteDance, TikTok or any other individual company," Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell said. "Congress is acting to prevent foreign adversaries from conducting espionage, surveillance, maligned operations, harming vulnerable Americans, our servicemen and women, and our U.S. government personnel."

Opponents of the bill claim the Chinese government could easily access Americans' information in other ways, including through commercial data brokers that traffic in personal information. The foreign aid package also includes a provision to make it illegal for data brokers to sell or rent personally identifiable sensitive data to North Korea, China, Russia, Iran or entities in those countries, but critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, say the language is too vague and could impact journalists and others who publish personal information.

Many opponents of the TikTok bill argue that the best way to protect U.S. consumers is by implementing a comprehensive federal data privacy law targeting all companies, regardless of their country of origin. These opponents also say the U.S. has not provided public evidence showing that TikTok shares U.S. user information with the Chinese government, or that Chinese officials have ever toyed with its algorithm.

"Banning TikTok would be an extraordinary step that requires extraordinary justification," said Becca Branum, a deputy director at the Center for Democracy & Technology. "Extending the divestiture deadline neither justifies the urgency of the threat to the public nor addresses the legislation’s fundamental constitutional flaws."


Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden, who voted for the measure, said he has concerns about TikTok but also fears the bill could have hurt free speech, does not do enough to protect consumer privacy and could potentially be used by a future administration to violate First Amendment rights.

"I plan to watchdog how this legislation is implemented," Wyden said in a statement.

China has previously said it would oppose forcing the sale of TikTok, and has signaled it would oppose the latest legislation. TikTok has long denied it is a security threat, and is preparing a lawsuit to block the legislation.

"At the stage that the bill is signed, we will move to the courts for a legal challenge," TikTok's head of public policy for the Americas, Michael Beckerman, wrote in a memo sent to employees on Saturday.

"This is the beginning, not the end of this long process," Beckerman wrote.

The platform has had some success with court challenges in the past, but it has never attempted to prevent federal legislation from going into effect.

Former President Trump, whose administration had sought to ban TikTok if it was not sold to an American company, now says he opposes a ban as he seeks the presidency again in the 2024 election.

TikTok creators who rely on the app for income have spoken out against the bill, including at a protest in front of the Capitol on Tuesday.

Tiffany Cianci, a content creator who has more than 140,000 followers on the platform, said she believes TikTok is the safest platform for users right now because of Project Texas, the platform's $1.5 billion mitigation plan to store U.S. user data on servers owned and maintained by the tech giant Oracle.

"If our data is not safe on TikTok, I would ask why the president is on TikTok," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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