No more TikTok for you — in the name of privacy


The TikTok bill that the United States House of Representatives approved last week will not ban the social media platform.

“The legislation is not a ban of TikTok,” Rep. Ritchie Torres explained. “It’s a forced sale of TikTok.”

Torres is among the members of Congress who are leading the charge on the legislation. In a tweet, he wrote, “I am part of a bipartisan coalition behind a bill that would force a sale of TikTok. TikTok, ultimately controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, has amplified extremism and antisemitism to an extent never seen before in recent history.”

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Beijing-based, Chinese-owned company. The legislation is intended to force ByteDance to either sell TikTok to an entity or be banned from usage in the United States. 

The bill was approved in the House by a vote of 352-65. Named the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act, it focuses more on the sharing of Americans’ secure data than on the social media platform. It must still be approved by the Senate, and then signed by President Biden, who has said that if the bill made it to his desk, he would give it his stamp of approval.

“There’s real concern that the Chinese Communist Party could use TikTok to spy on 170 million Americans,” Torres said. “The purpose of the legislation is not to target speech.”

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, who represents southern Westchester County and a small portion of the Bronx, disagrees.

“The rush to ban TikTok sets a dangerous precedent for our country by undermining our freedom of speech,” Bowman wrote in a statement.

Congressman Adriano Espaillat’s take on the legislation mirrored Bowman’s. Espaillat released a statement explaining his “no” vote and why he believed the bill could be crafted differently.

“Enacting legislation such as this would have global implications, if enacted, including a precedent that could potentially embolden other nations to crack down on U.S. platforms as a direct counter response,” Espaillat wrote, adding, “This bill was put together very quickly and would enact measures that would be nearly impossible to implement.”

Espaillat said he didn’t think the legislation was extensive enough, and questioned whether forcing ByteDance to sell would effectively address the data security concerns not just on TikTok, but on all social media platforms.

Torres said that despite lawmakers’ concerns about the sharing of Americans’ private information, no one really knows what data TikTok is collecting, and potentially sharing with the Chinese government. He did, however, describe ByteDance’s ownership of TikTok as a national security risk.

The cause for concern is the requirement governing ByteDance’s operations that, if asked by the Chinese government, the company is required by law to report all of the private data it has. Chinese national security laws compel organizations to participate in intelligence-gathering, and despite TikTok’s insistence that it has never, and never would, share citizens’ private information, the U.S. government is just as insistent that it will act pre-emptively.

Torres said he was hopeful that TikTok would continue operating under new non-Chinese ownership. He made it clear that his concern is based not on the nature of the platform, but rather on the ownership.

Espaillat and Bowman both stated that they supported Americans’ rights to privacy and data security, but they believed the bill, as written, was incomplete in both its understanding of the issue and how it would go about protecting that data.

“Every big tech company, both foreign and domestic, mines and sells our data for their own profits,” wrote Bowman in a statement. “We need to focus on cracking down on surveillance capitalism and predatory algorithms that harm our kids.”

He wrote that he himself uses TikTok to connect to the larger community, as countless others do. His ideas include creating regulations that cover all social media platforms and protect data everywhere, not just on TikTok. Bowman emphasized that he is not on TikTok’s side, but rather on the side of protecting people in a comprehensive and logical way.

Espaillat said he felt that restrictive measures that limit access were not in Americans’ best interests. “Congress must to do all that we can to prevent adversarial threats on social media,” he wrote, “as well as ensure protections of freedom of expression and speech on these platforms that have allowed many voices, including otherwise marginalized communities, to have a presence and say as part of the globally connected community.”

Torres noted that TikTok is unlike other social media platforms in that it also serves as a leading news resource for young people. Which makes leaving a leading news source in the hands of a foreign adversary an “act of self-sabotage.”

The bill, he said, is not unusual: Congress has in the past written laws that prohibit foreign ownership of television and radio stations. This legislation, a pointed request for someone outside China to own TikTok, is no different, he said.

Bowman has disagreed with Torres on many issues, including the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, but their views on TikTok do not appear to differ as widely. They agree on the need for safeguards for Americans’ privacy, but differ on what form those safeguards should take.

TikTok United States House of Representatives Ritchie Torres ByteDance Chinese Communist Party Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act President Biden Jamaal Bowman Adriano Espaillat Data security National security Surveillance capitalism Predatory algorithms Freedom of speech Social media platforms Privacy rights Foreign ownership News resource Self-sabotage Israel-Hamas war