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Congress’ Multi-Year Examination of TikTok’s Position in the United States Escalates

The dispute over TikTok’s role in the American market has been ongoing for several years and is intensifying this week as the video-sharing platform campaigns against the threat of a prohibition. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are advancing legislation that would compel ByteDance, the Chinese parent company of TikTok, to divest ownership of the United States version of the app or face an outright ban from app stores in the country. Here is a timeline outlining the progression of this protracted debate:

The FBI’s Long-Standing Security Concerns

For multiple years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has expressed that TikTok poses potential national security risks. Officials at the agency have warned that the Chinese government, through its alleged relationship with ByteDance, may be able “to control” software installed on millions of American devices or could conduct influence operations via the platform. This concern stems from the overwhelming sway held by the Chinese Communist Party over private enterprises in China, where corporate leadership and firms have previously faced punishment for defying party directives. While China’s government has stated it will challenge any move to compel ByteDance to sell its TikTok stake in the US, the company denies accusations that the CCP exerts control over its operations.

Former President Trump’s Initial Attempted Intervention

In 2020, then-President Trump spearheaded the initial effort to prohibit TikTok citing national security issues. He pushed for Microsoft to acquire the platform, though those negotiations ultimately broke down. Software giant Oracle then put forth its own proposal to become TikTok’s “trusted technology partner” within the United States. After significant pressure, TikTok agreed to safeguard American user data through a partnership with Oracle.

TikTok’s “Project Texas” Data Security Initiative

By June 2022, in response to sustained pressure from the US government, TikTok began routing all data pertaining to its domestic users to Oracle’s cloud computing infrastructure. Oracle then took on vetting TikTok’s algorithms and content moderation models to ensure they are not manipulated by Chinese authorities. Dubbed “Project Texas” in reference to Oracle’s headquarters in the state, this $1.5 billion initiative aimed to reassure Americans that their information is protected, the app remains free from external influence, and that data separation measures instituted over the prior year successfully detached US operations.

Continued Scrutiny from the Biden Administration and Lawmakers

In February 2023, the Biden administration moved to regulate TikTok and barred the app from federal devices, though their campaign had joined the platform the prior month. That March, TikTok’s CEO testified before Congress, downplaying ties to China as lawmakers advocated banning the app. By May, Montana became the first state to outlaw TikTok entirely via legislation, with others prohibiting it on government devices. Last week, a House committee unanimously advanced a bill that would compel ByteDance to divest TikTok within 165 days.

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