Republicans in Washington are fighting to ban TikTok across America, describing the social media app as a “Chinese spy balloon in your phone.”
The short-form video platform is hugely popular among young people, but with growing distrust of China, Chinese company Bytedance’s app is being targeted by lawmakers in the US and around the world.
It’s already been banned by government devices in America, Canada and the EU, but emboldened House Republicans who hold the majority want to go further and see it wiped 100 million phones across the country.
Just this week, the Foreign Intelligence Committee passed a bill that would give President Joe Biden the power to ban TikTok, but it still faces significant legislative hurdles. Would he?
“Ban TikTok? I’m not sure. I know I don’t have it on my phone,” he told reporters.
Republican lawmakers have made countering China’s influence a priority, with Tiktok in the crosshairs.
“TikTok is a national security threat … It’s time to act,” Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the committee that sponsored the bill, said this week.
“Everyone who downloaded TikTok to their device gave CCP [Communist Party of China] a backdoor to all their personal data. It’s a spy balloon in her phone.”
There are real concerns that Beijing is using the app to track or spy on Americans, or even manipulate its algorithm to promote Chinese government narratives.
The company has denied all allegations but came under closer scrutiny when it admitted spying on journalists as part of an internal probe into leaks about the company.
ByteDance chief executive Shou Zi Chew said several employees “abused their powers to gain access to TikTok user data.”
Among TikTok’s most vocal critics is Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, who said the app could pose an unprecedented threat to US national security.
“We have national security concerns, at least on the part of the FBI, regarding TikTok,” Mr. Wray told members of the House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee during a hearing on global threats.
“They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection from millions of users or the recommendation algorithm that could be used to influence operations if they so choose. Or to control software on millions of devices, which there is an opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal devices.”
Suspicions about Beijing’s intentions have continued to mount since a Chinese spy balloon was allowed to hover over US and Canadian airspace for eight days before it was shot down off the coast of South Carolina.
Since then, Taiwan, Canada and the European Parliament have followed the US in banning the app on official devices.
The UK, which has nearly 20 million users, hasn’t asked MPs to delete it.
In the US, the message is clear: “Having TikTok on our phones is like having 80 million Chinese spy balloons flying over America,” tweeted California Republican Representative Darrell Issa, who is calling for a nationwide ban on TikTok to “put America ahead.” Chinese to protect surveillance.”
He is one of many who are also calling for a change in the US relationship with China.
“The essential work of rebalancing our relationship with an increasingly hostile China is made even more difficult by the extensive influence, surveillance and even espionage that the CCP has successfully employed in this country,” Mr. Issa told Fox News Digital.
“Our universities, the tech sector, the industrial base and even the media must now accept the long-term perspective and the clear reality that China is a hostile entity and it is in our national interest to reshape our relationship.”
This broader distrust can be felt elsewhere as well.
Foreign ownership of farmland and other real estate, particularly by Chinese citizens or corporations, is becoming a serious national issue as Florida, Arkansas, South Dakota and eight other states are considering legislation to restrict it.
Chinese investments accounted for 6 percent of foreign home purchases in the United States in the 12 months ended March 2022, according to the National Association of Realtors.
Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott said he will sign a bill banning Chinese citizens from buying real estate on national security grounds.