What a TikTok ban would mean for users

The Biden administration has presented the Chinese company ByteDance with an ultimatum: sell your popular video-sharing app TikTok or get banned nationwide.

TikTok hasn’t announced that it will sell yet, but has tried convince US officials that they can address safety concerns and meet the scope of the proposed review. CEO of Tiktok has argued that a ban would not address safety concerns.

But what would a ban mean for consumers? Is there a precedent for such a ban?

NBC News spoke to four people who have researched cybersecurity, national security and technology policy and offered some ideas on how a TikTok ban could work.

How would a ban work?

It’s not clear how the US would issue a ban. The best chance for the White House to do so would likely come from a bill introduced last week by a bipartisan group of senators that has strong White House support.

While the senators stand behind the bill introduced it To potentially ban TikTok, it’s not exactly clear how that would happen. It would give the Secretary of Commerce broader authority to ban foreign technology in cases the US believes pose a national security threat. However, how this authority is to be exercised is still up for debate. A spokesman for the Department of Commerce declined to discuss details of how the agency honors that power.

The easiest mechanism for the government to enforce a ban would be to ban app stores from making TikTok available for download, said Darrell M. West, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution Center for Technology Innovation. The app may lose functionality over time.

“If there was a ban, there would definitely be no more updates and software improvements, and over time these apps become harder to use,” West said.

Using TikTok could also potentially be criminalized, which could result in fines, said Ahmed Ghappour, a law professor at Boston University. This has been done in the past with other banned software that has been flagged as a national security threat. Though he said no such software is “as mainstream as TikTok.”

Can I still use TikTok?

Possibly. An app store ban would leave the app intact on phones that already have it downloaded. In theory, these apps would still work. The government cannot force people to remove the app, West said.

There is uncertainty as to what the app would look like for the grandfathers – if existing users could sign up and still have access to video sharing and browsing features.

But the US could theoretically go further by forcing internet providers to block the app.

India is the largest country to have completely banned TikTok blocked dozens of mainly Chinese apps in 2020. Shortly after the ban, the Indian Ministry of Telecommunications ordered Internet and mobile phone providers to block the apps including TikTok.

Soon after, some TikTok users in India said the app ran out of functionality.

Has the US ever banned an app?

The US has never issued a blanket ban on an app. TikTok has been subject to a variety of minor restrictions.

Many Public universities have limited access to the social media app school-owned devices and campus Wi-Fi networks, and states have banned state-issued devices from downloading the app.

The US has forced the sale of an app. The Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS) regularly reviews foreign-owned companies to determine whether their operations and transactions pose a threat to national security.

In 2019, CFIUS forced a Chinese company to do it parted ways with the dating app Grindr.

Can I use a VPN to access TikTok?

If the US moves to blocking the app entirely, there’s a chance that using a VPN (virtual private network) could allow access to the app.

Virtual private networks are services that allow users to redirect their Internet connection through other networks. They are often used to bypass certain types of internet censorship.

“There are virtual networks that allow people to access Western applications,” West said. Americans could use the same to access TikTok. A ban is difficult to enforce because there are always loopholes.

Still, the government could target VPN access to make the ban effective. Officials could “ban VPN use or force VPN companies to maintain a blacklist of sites they don’t allow traffic to,” Ghappour said.

Other experts said that while there may be workarounds to the ban, they may not be sustainable due to the app’s popularity.

“There really would be no way around the ban. The market is too big,” said Elly Rostoum, a political scientist and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. “We’re talking about a third of the US population using TikTok.”

Does a ban mean my data is safe?

It wouldn’t.

“The ban doesn’t address TikTok’s main problem, which is data transfer,” Rostoum said. “There will be another company owned by a Chinese company that can transfer the data.”

Other experts agreed.

“TikTok is just the tip of the iceberg,” says James Lewis, technology expert at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. “Many products have Chinese software.”

Aside from privacy concerns at Chinese-owned companies, the US has no overarching federal privacy law, and data brokers buy and sell user data freely and with very little oversight. And TikTok’s access to user information is not unique — Most smartphone apps collect data from users’ phones.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

Source : news.yahoo.com

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