Awkward dads and their eager kids might not be dancing together on TikTok much longer — at least not in the US
The prospect of a nationwide TikTok ban has evolved from a theoretical possibility to a serious political consideration, with growing support in Washington, DC
However, few details are known about how the policy would be implemented and what it would mean for the app’s more than 100 million US-based users.
The Chinese-owned TikTok has come under increasing scrutiny from government officials over fears that user data could be acquired by the Chinese government and the app could ultimately be misused by China to spread misinformation.
The Biden administration has toughened its stance on TikTok in recent weeks, and earlier this month approved a bipartisan bill that would empower the federal government to ban apps like TikTok.
The government’s stance hardened further this week when officials demanded that TikTok’s Chinese owner sell its stake in the app or risk being banned, the company and a US official previously told ABC News.
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A TikTok ban could take effect in a number of ways, including forced removal from Apple and Google’s app stores or an outright ban on access by internet service providers, experts told ABC News.
While dedicated users would find ways to circumvent any government crackdown, the app would suffer a dramatic decline in popularity and eventually stop working, they added.
“The US doesn’t normally ban websites like this — that would be very uncharted territory,” Timothy Edgar, a Brown University computer science professor and former national security official, told ABC News. “That would be a huge undertaking.”
TikTok did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Responding to bans on TikTok on some government devices, TikTok previously told ABC News in a statement, “We appreciate that some governments have wisely chosen not to implement such bans given the lack of evidence that there is such a need.” exists, but it’s disappointing to see other government agencies and institutions ban TikTok on employees’ devices without consideration or evidence.”
“We share a common goal with governments concerned about user privacy, but these bans are misguided and do nothing to improve privacy or security,” the company added.
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Here’s what you should know about the different ways the government could implement a nationwide TikTok ban and what that would mean for TikTok users:
The removal of TikTok from the app stores
A simple way to significantly restrict access to TikTok is to force the app to be withdrawn from major app stores such as those operated by Google and Apple.
Such a measure would shut out new users and limit existing ones, experts said.
“It would prevent new users from downloading and installing the app,” Qi Liao, a professor of computer science at Central Michigan University, told ABC News. “And the app would not be able to download updates, which would eventually become outdated.”
The approach has been endorsed by at least one US Senator. Last month, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO, sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, urging their companies to remove TikTok from their respective app stores, citing concerns about how TikTok handles the data of American users.
Google and Apple did not respond to an earlier request for comment on the letter.
Experienced users could circumvent such a ban by using offline app installation that bypasses the app stores, Liao said.
Still, an app store ban would immediately limit TikTok’s audience, he added.
“Once you ban TikTok on the App Store, there will be repercussions,” Liao said.
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An access block to TikTok’s servers or IP address
The app could also be banned by blocking access to TikTok’s web server or its IP address, according to the experts.
In such a case, attempts to access the app would fail as users would not be able to receive digital content from TikTok or reach their web host.
“It would cause tremendous damage to TikTok,” Edgar said.
The government could use a “sinkhole,” or a specially designed server that redirects web traffic when users try to reach illegal sites, such as child pornography or pirated content, Edgar said.
“Users can go to a page that says, ‘TikTok has been banned by the US government and this site has been seized by the Department of Justice,'” Edgar said.
As with other approaches, users could bypass the government-imposed barrier, experts said.
To access the app, users could use a virtual private network, or VPN, which would allow one to impersonate a user logging in from a location abroad, bypassing the US-specific ban, Liao said.
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“In China, it’s the other way around,” Liao said. “People use a VPN to access blocked US services because the Chinese government has such censorship.”
Despite the readily available workaround, the hassle required to sign up from a VPN will deter many people from continuing their use of TikTok, Edgar said.
“Once you ban it, mainstream users might not want to take those kinds of risks — they might not care that much,” he said. “TikTok influencers will lose massive amounts of followers.”
A crackdown on internet service providers
A TikTok ban could turn out to be a denial of access imposed by internet service providers, companies like Verizon and AT&T that provide internet access to individuals, homes, businesses and other institutions, experts say.
Internet service providers could “completely block the TikTok network” so that all customers would not have access to the app, Liao said.
A TikTok ban imposed by India in 2020 required ISPs to refuse customers to use the app, Sarah Kreps, director of Cornell University’s Tech Policy Institute, told ABC News.
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“This is a case where in the US you would have to get Verizon to essentially block this app,” she said.
Liao, noting that India’s approach also mandates the removal of TikTok from app stores, said denying access by ISPs would expand on the measures some companies are already taking to block usage of certain websites, such as Google. B. to prevent age-inappropriate content.
“They’re already doing a lot of traffic shaping,” Liao said.
Customers could potentially bypass a barrier imposed by internet service providers or ISPs by using a different SIM card, the chip implanted in a mobile device that identifies a customer, Liao said. Users could also do without a SIM card altogether, he added.
“Then bypass TikTok’s ISP block completely,” he said.
As with the other solutions, this approach would not eliminate access entirely, but rather shrink the user base, Kreps said.
“The hope with that would be to slow down the flywheel,” she said. “You’re not going to block every single user from using TikTok, but that would certainly make it a lot more difficult to use.”
‘Neuland’: How would a TikTok ban work in the US? originally appeared on abcnews.go.com