TikTok Ban: Recap, Timeline, and How Brands Should Prepare
On Thursday, March 23, 2023, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew sat before a congressional hearing entitled ‘TikTok: How Congress can Safeguard American Data Privacy and Protect Children from Online Harms.’
Over five hours of testimony, Chew spoke to TikTok’s ties to its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, in regard to US national security as well as the apps’ effects on child endangerment.
Although no decisions have been finalized by US lawmakers, we believe that based on the hearing, US lawmakers are leaning toward some level of moderation on the app’s usage. However, it’s unclear how any ban would be enforced, and would likely be a complicated process that takes time to outline and roll out.
This leaves brands and agencies like ours to figure out how to respond and what to do in the event of a TikTok ban. Keep reading to find out more.
The FCC Commissioner Brandon Carr called for a U.S. TikTok ban in November 2022. Here are the major reasons behind the call for the ban and a timeline of the recent events.
- FCC Commissioner Concerns: Carr has concerns over U.S. data flowing back to China and that it creates the risk of possible tampering by the Chinese government in the U.S. political process. Carr has stated, “I don’t believe there is a path forward for anything other than a ban.” This means that he believes TikTok and parent company ByteDance could not create a process where data is safe from the Chinese Communist Party.
- Forbes Report: In October 2022, Forbes published an article alleging that TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, had planned to use TikTok to monitor the locations of specific American citizens through their internal audit team.
- TikTok EU Concerns: Additionally, raising U.S. concerns, TikTok’s head of privacy for Europe admitted that employees in Brazil, Canada, China, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and the United States have access to UK and EU user data, despite the data being stored in the U.S. and Singapore.
Thursday, October 20, 2022: Forbes article titled “TikTok Parent ByteDance Planned to Use TikTok to Monitor the Physical Location of Specific American Citizens” is published
Tuesday, November 1, 2022: FCC Commissioner Brandon Carr called again for a U.S. ban on the social media platform TikTok.
Tuesday, December 13, 2022: Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, introduced legislation alongside two other US Senators that if passed would ban TikTok in the United States.
Wednesday, December 14, 2022: the Senate unanimously passed a bill proposed by Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri to ban TikTok on all government-owned devices.
Wednesday, March 15, 2023: CFIUS and the US Biden administration called for a divestment of ByteDance (TikTok’s parent company) from the social platform; or else TikTok could face a nationwide ban from US smartphones and devices.
At the hearing, Chew responded to questions from Congress and attempted to show TikTok’s data safety measures. Here’s some of what was discussed.
Data Security and Relation to the Chinese Government
Chew shared that the company has spent more than $1.5 billion on data security efforts under the name “Project Texas,” which currently has nearly 1,500 employees and is contracted with Oracle to store US TikTok user data on US soil.
The purpose of this initiative is to address key issues of corporate governance, content recommendation and moderation, data security, and system access. Chew stated, “The bottom line is this: American data is stored on American soil by an American company overseen by American personnel.”
Congress did not seem appeased with the action of Project Texas given the project is still underway. As it currently stands, only some aspects of Project Texas have been rolled out, most notably the transfer of all U.S. user data to Oracle’s cloud infrastructure, which intends to keep user data from ever leaving the U.S.
Lawmakers have additional concerns with the initiative, such as that it’s happening while TikTok is simultaneously in the process of deleting historically protected U.S. data that lives on non-Project Texas servers, with an expected completion date in 2023. With this in mind, Congress was not satisfied with the Project Texas initiative in its current state as private user data could still be at risk.
Chew claims privacy is built into TikTok by design, and people on TikTok have access to a wide range of privacy settings. The TikTok CEO also continuously mentioned that anything the platform is doing is no different than how other US social media platforms operate.
It’s worth noting that TikTok puts forth regular transparency reports that show what it does with user data. To date, no information has been shared with Chinese law enforcement or government agencies nor have they received any restrictions from them.
Safety of Minors
TikTok has also been criticized as being too addictive, and its algorithm bombards teens with videos glorifying dangerous topics such as self-harm or suicide. According to Pew Research Center, the app is used by 67% of US teenagers.
Chew explained safety and wellness – in particular for teens – is a core priority. He outlined several policies to support this, as well as confirmed that he supports updating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act.
TikTok does offer a separate experience in the United States for people under 13. In the United States, people under 13 are directed to a separate, curated viewing experience, with stringent safeguards and privacy protections designed specifically for them, with no advertisements.
Additionally, accounts registered to teens under 16 are set to private by default. Only accounts registered to people 18 or older can host a Livestream on the platform, and every account belonging to someone under 18 will default to a 60-minute daily screen time limit.
In terms of content moderation, Chew continually insisted on the company’s commitment to transparency and independence with additional investment being put into its content moderation process that combines AI technology and human reviewers.
As no decisions have been finalized by lawmakers, Code3 recommends no changes to advertiser strategies on the platform at this time. We will continue to work closely with TikTok reps as the situation continues to unfold as there is no immediate timeline.
Should additional moderation or a ban of the platform go into effect and TikTok is no longer a viable advertising platform, Code3 recommends starting discussions on contingency plans to ensure there are no significant impacts to your current social strategy.
Initial recommendations of other short-form video platforms that brands can turn to include YouTube (Shorts) and Meta (Reels). Of course, your Code3 team will recommend platforms based on your strategy and brand goals. Code3 can work with you on a contingency plan more customized to your brand.
If you want to talk more about TikTok or how we can help you on social media and beyond, contact the Code3 team to learn more.
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