Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) reintroduced a bill with Sen. Angus King (I-ME) on Friday to ban TikTok unless the app is fully divested of Chinese ownership, announcing that “momentum is growing” to pass the legislation.
Rubio and King’s bill — the Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party Act (ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act) — would prohibit any social media app in the U.S. that is directly or indirectly owned or substantially influenced by a foreign adversary.
While Rubio, the tough-on-China ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, first introduced the bill last Congress, King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, is a newcomer to the legislative effort.
“We cannot allow hostile governments to use our social media habits as a Trojan Horse into our networks,” King said in a statement. “Make no mistake – every ‘private’ enterprise in China has direct ties and on-demand information-sharing requirements with the national government.”
TikTok, a widely used and addictive app that allows users to upload short self-created videos, is owned by ByteDance, a technology company based in China.
King asserted that China’s communist government’s “potential to access TikTok user data and exploit American’s private information is an unacceptable national security risk.”
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), another lawmaker targeting TikTok, cited the alarming popularity of the app in a letter to the CEOs of Google and Apple this month as he encouraged them to ban TikTok from their app stores:
TikTok is now the third-most used social media app in the United States, with over 100 million monthly active users. Today, roughly 36 percent of Americans over age 12 now use TikTok, including 61 percent of Americans ages 12 to 34. On average, American TikTok users spend an average of 80 minutes per day on the app – more than Facebook and Instagram combined.
Other politicians calling for action against TikTok include Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) and the chairman and ranking member of the House’s newly created China Committee, Reps. Michael Gallagher (R-WI) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL).
Senate Intel Committee chair Rep. Mark Warner (D-VA) recently said his “patience is wearing thin” with the Biden administration to address the security concerns TikTok presents.
Lawmakers point to not just data collection concerns but also to the possibility that the Chinese government could be nefariously manipulating the content that the many young American users of the app are consuming.
“I’m glad the Senate companion to my ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act is now bipartisan. The dam is breaking on TikTok and other apps like it, and I hope to build on this momentum in the coming weeks and expand bipartisan support for this bill in the House too,” Gallagher said of Rubio and King’s bill.
In the midst of intensifying scrutiny and calls for bans from across the political aisle, TikTok’s CEO has agreed to testify before Congress next month and the company has also made changes in an apparent attempt to avoid bans. The company, for instance, recently implemented a “transparency center,” though experts have warned the app’s sophisticated algorithm still presents security issues despite the new initiative.
TikTok was banned in December from most federal government devices, and roughly 30 states have also prohibited the app on state government devices.
Write to Ashley Oliver at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @asholiver.