Congress Begins its Crackdown on TikTok

A new memo bans the use of TikTok on any phones issued by the House of Representatives.

For as long as TikTok has been around (it launched in 2016 and started to get really popular in the U.S. by 2019), it has been a point of discord between the government and the tens of millions of Americans who use it every day. 

Government officials frequently warn of its parent company ByteDance’s ties to the Chinese government and the fact that, as FBI Director Christopher Wray said at Homeland Security Council meeting last November, “the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users.”

While both the U.S. military and states like Virginia, New Hampshire and Idaho have already banned the use of the app on government-issued employees’ phones, the latest move is much more far-reaching. Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives announced that it would ban the app and any others owned by ByteDance from phones issued to lawmakers and staff by the government. 

Delete That TikTok Now, Congress

“House staff are NOT allowed to download the TikTok app on any House mobile devices,” the memo written by Chief Administrative Officer Catherine L. Szpindor and first obtained by NBC News, read. “If you have the TikTok app on your House mobile device, you will be contacted to remove it.”

This particular memo does not affect the Senate, but comes right behind it passing similar legislation to ban TikTok from all government-issued devices.

Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokesperson based in Washington, told the Washington Post that the move was a “political signal” given that very few government-issued phones would have had TikTok installed on them at this point. Certain bans like the military one have been in place since 2020 and, while many lawmakers are active on TikTok, they would not be likely to use it from a government-issued phone given the current climate.

Over the past two years, the Biden administration has been working resolve some of its national security concerns by trying to draft an agreement that would allow TikTok to continue operating in the U.S. if it devises a plan to also store user data domestically.

U.S. Government Has Been Battling TikTok

While TikTok representatives said that they were “on a path to fully satisfy all reasonable U.S. national security concerns” back in September, any negotiations reached an impasse as lawmaker calls to ban it entirely intensify–this week, TikTok and ByteDance admitted to what essentially amounts to spying on Forbes journalists through the app.

At the same time, TikTok’s popularity continues to rise among Americans and young people in particular. As of November 2022, it remains the most frequently-downloaded app globally and had more than 80 million active users in the U.S. as of November. According to numbers published directly by the company, more than 60% of those 80 million U.S. users are between the ages of 16 and 24.

“I think it has some terrific features and ease of use, and of course, breadth of audience and all those other things,” Martin Baccardax, a senior editor and correspondent for TheStreet, says in a video. “[… But] lawmakers have a point when they say they’re uncomfortable about the data gathering and the expansion of the app in the United States when that company is so closely connected to the Chinese Communist Party.”

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