US House of Representatives passes bill targeting TikTok over national security concerns

The bill aims to protect Americans, especially children, from what is seen as Chinese propaganda on the app. It is part of a foreign aid package proposed by House Republican speaker Mike Johnson.

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The House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted 360 to 58 on a bill that could result in the unprecedented action of shutting down TikTok, a popular social media platform, over concerns related to Chinese influence and data privacy. The bill, authored by Texas Republican representative Michael McCaul, aims to protect Americans, especially children, from what he described as the ‘malign influence of Chinese propaganda’ on TikTok, which he referred to as a ‘spy balloon in Americans’ phones.’

The legislation was passed as part of a broader foreign aid package put forth by House Republican speaker Mike Johnson, which includes support for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. The updated bill extends the divestment period for TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, from six months to a year, a move supported by Senate Commerce Committee chair Maria Cantwell to allow sufficient time for potential buyers to negotiate a deal.

Critics of TikTok have expressed concerns that ByteDance, being based in China, could collect user data and censor content critical of the Chinese government. In response, TikTok has consistently denied sharing US user data with the Chinese government, highlighting its independent leadership structure across different countries.

Following the House’s passage of the bill, TikTok voiced disappointment, emphasising its substantial economic contribution to the US and arguing against what it sees as an infringement on free speech rights. The bill’s broader implications on data privacy and surveillance practices have also drawn criticism from other tech industry figures, including the president of Signal, who warned of potential repercussions extending beyond TikTok to other social media platforms. Despite these concerns, President Joe Biden has indicated his intention to sign the bill into law if it passes the Senate, aligning with his previous statements and ongoing scrutiny of TikTok’s operations.