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Biden signs bill to ban TikTok in 9 months if app is not sold


United States President Joe Biden has signed a bill into law that will ban social media app TikTok if the parent company ByteDance Ltd. does not sell the app within nine months.

The “Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act” is part of a larger bill, which includes funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, that was signed on Wednesday, April 24.

According to the act, it would be illegal for any entity in the United States to “distribute, maintain, or update (or enable the distribution, maintenance, or updating of) a foreign adversary controlled application.”

A foreign adversary controlled application is defined in the bill as any entity, like an app or website, which is operated by a company or group of people who are subject to the laws of a foreign adversary country.

The term “foreign adversary country” as defined by the US code, includes China in its list of countries along with Russia, North Korea and Iran.

The act explicitly labels ByteDance Ltd., the Chinese company which developed TikTok along with the app itself, as a foreign adversary controlled application.

Set to go into effect 270 days after the bill is passed, it will be illegal for app stores, web browsers and other providers to host or maintain TikTok in the US and its territories, unless it is no longer in the hands of ByteDance.

In order for the app to meet the definition of “qualified divestiture” which the act states would exempt an application from the ban. TikTok would have to be sold to a company not from a “foreign adversary,” such as China, North Korea or Russia. 

TikTok is a widely popular app in the US with about a third of adults using the app, according to the Pew Research Center. Of those, 33% of American adults, about two-thirds are between 18- and 29-years-old.

The debate over the TikTok ban has been ongoing in Congress for months, with members of Congress who support the ban citing concerns that the app could be used to spread propaganda or spy on users due to ByteDance being a Chinese company.

“TikTok needs to decide whether they value their users or their ties to the Chinese Communist Party more,” representative Tim Walberg, a Republican from Illinois, said last month when the House voted on the bill.

Senator Maria Cantwell said in remarks on Tuesday after the Senate voted on the bill that the act was not concerned specifically with TikTok but with national security.

“Congress is acting to prevent foreign adversaries from conducting espionage, surveillance, maligned operations,” Cantwell said. “Congress is not acting to punish ByteDance, TikTok or any other individual company.”

Those who are against the ban, including people working or operating the app, view the ban as unconstitutional, particularly as it applies to the First Amendment and the right to freedom of speech.

“We have invested billions of dollars to secure your (TikTok users) data and keep our platform free from outside manipulation,” TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew said in a video after the bill was passed. “Rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere … the facts and the Constitution are on our side and we expect to prevail again.”

Whether the app disappears from the phones of millions of Americans in the coming months depends on whether the app is sold to a different company, or if ByteDance pursues legal action.

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