The TikTok logo is displayed outside TikTok social media app company offices in Culver City, California, on March 16, 2023.
Patrick T. Fallon | AFP | Getty Images
TikTok is at risk of being banned in the U.S. if Chinese parent ByteDance won’t sell its stake. Millions of Americans who use the popular video app are left wondering what that means for them.
Some fans of the service may turn to virtual private networks (VPNs) to try and connect to TikTok should a ban take place, a workaround that can make it seem like their internet connection is coming from a different country. But that loophole may not be so easy to exploit.
It’s not an issue yet, as there are still some ways a TikTok ban could be avoided or accessed legally in the U.S. Here are the key things under consideration.
What a ban or forced sale could look like
The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. (CFIUS) is the interagency body evaluating national security concerns around the app to determine how to minimize risk if it continues to operate domestically. The group can recommend to President Joe Biden that ByteDance’s 2017 acquisition of Musical.ly, a TikTok precursor, be unwound, forcing a sale of those assets.
TikTok has recommended a mitigation plan as an alternative to a forced sale. But that’s a longshot solution as CFIUS already threatened a ban if ByteDance won’t sell its stake.
A forced sale would be a complex step, requiring a years-old transaction to be unwound. The Trump administration pursued that route once before to no avail. The Chinese government would likely oppose it again, but it would need to be careful in its protests because the heart of its argument to the U.S. is that TikTok operates independently.
“That would be part of the calculus and how aggressively China would want to respond,” said Lindsay Gorman, a senior fellow for emerging technologies at the German Marshall Fund’s Alliance for Securing Democracy. Gormany previously served as a senior advisor at the Biden White House.
Should the U.S. ban TikTok, the mechanics on what happens from there get murky. Oracle is the cloud hosting service for all of TikTok usage in the U.S. Internet service providers like Comcast (NBC Universal’s parent company) and Verizon direct traffic to end users. And the app stores controlled by Apple and Google are the primary places for consumers to download the TikTok app.
Shannon Reaves, a partner in Stroock’s CFIUS compliance group, said any requirement on a third party would not come…
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