Have you seen any of the latest TIkTok ads? In one, a young black man who runs a boxing school talks about how he was motivated by his mother to start and how much he has been helped by being able to promote his school on TikTok. Meanwhile, university campuses, government agencies, and other public entities around the world have banned or are considering placing a ban on the use of Tik Tok. What is going on?
There are growing privacy concerns over how the owners of TikTok, the Chinese company ByteDance, handles user data. Fears are expressed that its very location in China gives the Chinese government access to the database of TikTok users or leaves it open to requests to turn over the data to the Chinese government. TikTok has denied these allegations and is fighting for its survival. The company has begun talking about plans to move its storage systems outside of China.
This move may not be enough. In addition to concerns about the content on TikTok – two-thirds of US teens are on the app – some security concerns have been previously raised. In our 2020 blog post, “Is It Still Legal to Download TikTok?” we explain –
In 2019, the Trump Administration declared a national emergency based on an identified threat to the country’s national security in the form of “foreign adversaries” able to exploit vulnerabilities in information and communications technology and services. In August 2020, the U.S. introduced a ban on transactions with TikTok owner, ByteDance, including the provision of internet hosting and content delivery network services that enabled the functioning or optimization of TikTok in the U.S. Also in August 2020, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) – which has the authority to block or impose conditions on the foreign acquisition of U.S. entities – retroactively prohibited ByteDance’s acquisition of the U.S. company, Musical.ly. The CFIUS order gave ByteDance 90 days to dispose of its U.S. assets or be bought by a U.S. company. ByteDance appealed to a federal court and won. Its victory stopped enforcement of the orders that prohibited transactions with the company and would have required it to either be banned or acquired.
Since then, however, the underlying concerns have grown and expanded outside of the U.S. This is why we see the bans by other countries and TikTok’s media battle for the heart and minds of its millions of users.
The signs suggest that, for now, attempts to place an outright ban on the use of TikTok by individual consumers are unlikely. The Trump Administration orders, for example, if successful would have been applied only to business-to-business transactions. An attempt to pass U.S. legislation placing an outright ban on the use of TikTok was blocked in the Senate. The scrutiny and pressure continue, however.
So, is it still legal to download TikTok? Individual users can continue to download and use TikTok for personal use. If, however, you work for a state or federal agency, given the scrutiny and pressure with regards to its use at work – then don’t. For companies, until a clear signal is sent with respect to ByteDance security concerns, any transactions with ByteDance should be approached with caution and on the advice of experienced counsel.
I am a seasoned international trade and customs attorney, and policy adviser for various companies and governments with a demonstrated history of successfully developing and implementing sustainable and dynamic trade programs. I am experienced in creating partnerships with various business-support organizations to drive compliance and growth in the international market.