A Ban? A Sale? The Big Questions Hanging Over TikTok

TikTok’s supporters have campaigned against efforts to restrict the company’s operations in the U.S.Credit…Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters

TikTok faces a crucial vote

The House is set to vote on Wednesday on a bill that would ostensibly present ByteDance, the Chinese owner of TikTok, with an ultimatum: sell TikTok’s U.S. operations, or have the app barred.

But there’s a fight brewing over whether it’s actually possible for ByteDance to sell TikTok — or if the bill is effectively a ban disguised as a call for divestment. The bill itself never uses the word “ban,” but it frames the measure as a necessary effort “to protect the national security of the United States from the threat posed by foreign-adversary-controlled applications such as TikTok.”

TikTok sees it as a “shutdown,” a characterization that the lawmakers behind it have contested.

Here are the key questions in the debate.

Does the bill allow for a sale? It depends who you ask. The proposal forbids any deal that allows TikTok’s U.S. and foreign operations to cooperate on a content recommendation algorithm or share data. While TikTok says it already walls off the data of U.S. users from its parent company, it’s not clear the company could operate without any foreign support.

“All TikTok would have to do is separate” from ByteDance, the bill’s authors wrote to TikTok’s C.E.O., Shou Chew, this week. They accused the parent company of being controlled by China and urged TikTok to “stop spreading false claims in its campaign to manipulate and mobilize American citizens on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.”

A person close to the committee pointed to the forced sale of the dating app Grindr by its Chinese parent in 2020 over national security concerns (though in that case the whole company was sold, not just its U.S. operations).

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