Is the U.S. Government Going to Cancel TikTok?
If you’re a TikTok user — and let’s face it, who isn’t these days? — you might be wondering if you’ll be allowed to use the app in the coming years. TikTok has gotten heavy criticism over privacy and security issues since 2020, when the Trump administration threatened it with a ban if the Chinese owners didn’t sell the app to a U.S.-based company.
At the end of 2022, however, things took a turn when the Biden administration banned the use of TikTok on government-issued devices. Several other countries’ governments enacted similar policies around the same time. If things continue like this, does it mean that you’ll be forced to give up your TikTok account? Is TikTok really as dangerous as the government says?
Why is TikTok being banned?
Before we dive into whether your TikTok account is in danger, let’s discuss why TikTok is so problematic. It comes down to user privacy and the protection of data. The biggest concern is that TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, may put user data, like location information, into the hands of the Chinese government.
In the U.S., the reasons for banning TikTok are somewhat political. American relations with China are deteriorating and there’s worry over election disinformation. But the U.S. relationship with China isn’t the only reason TikTok is concerning — several other countries have started banning the app as well. They say it’s for security and data privacy reasons.
In 2017, China passed its National Intelligence Law, which compels individuals, institutions, and organizations to support state intelligence work. Many are worried that the Chinese government can demand TikTok user information from ByteDance, since ByteDance is a Chinese company. It would theoretically allow China to spy on anyone using TikTok worldwide.
A list of TikTok bans
The U.S. isn’t the only country concerned about TikTok. The app has been fully banned in Afghanistan and India. In several other countries, it’s been banned for civil servants, government workers, or on the devices issued to them. These countries include:
- European Union (EU staff devices)
- New Zealand
- United Kingdom
- United States
In the U.S., TikTok is banned at the federal level, but several state governments are implementing bans as well. State-wide bans affect not only state employees but also most public colleges and universities, which are state institutions.
Currently, 34 U.S. states have banned TikTok for state employees and public universities:
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
Many of these state bans followed shortly after the federal government’s ban at the end of 2022. Montana is the first and only state (so far) to enact a public ban on TikTok. That means the app isn’t only banned for state employees and universities, but for all smart devices in use within the state’s borders. App stores can get fined for offering TikTok to Montana users as of the beginning of 2024.
Does TikTok steal your information?
TikTok isn’t “stealing” any of your information; it doesn’t take any data that you don’t give. However, reports have shown that TikTok does gather an extensive amount of data about its users. Even if you don’t have a TikTok account and you visit TikTok on a web browser, some of your information is saved.
Some of the info that TikTok collects about you include:
- Videos you watch
- Comments you write
- Private messages you send
- Your exact geolocation
- Your contact lists
- Email address
- Phone number
- Browsing and search history
- Information about what’s in the photos and videos you send
- The contents of your clipboard (if you copy and paste something into the app)
For some data, you have to provide TikTok with consent. For others, however, you give up your info just by signing up for an account. If you’re worried about TikTok having your information, you should probably avoid using the app. With that in mind, most social media apps collect a ton of information about you as well. You should always try to educate yourself on what data you agree to share when using any app, software, or online service.
Can I still use TikTok?
Unless you live in Montana, yes you can still use TikTok. Even if you do live in a state or region where TikTok has been publicly banned, there is a way around the ban. For now, bans are based on location. All you have to do is “change” the location of your IP address using a virtual private network (VPN) and voilà! You’ll be able to use TikTok again.
For many small businesses and content creators, TikTok has become an important revenue stream. Going viral on the short-form video app comes with notoriety but you can also monetize your views and engagement on TikTok. Using a VPN can be one way of keeping that income source from drying up due to a government ban.
And if you need help choosing a VPN, we’ve got a VPN comparison guide to help you out.
TikTok’s not going anywhere…for now
You shouldn’t worry about losing your TikTok account in the immediate future. Although the U.S. government and many state governments (especially Montana) seem adamant about getting rid of the app on U.S. soil, TikTok is still thriving amongst U.S. users; the app’s American user base is projected to reach 97.6 million in 2023 and 100.7 million in 2024.
There’s still a chance that TikTok bans will become more widespread in the future, but it probably won’t be for a while. Until then, enjoy watching and posting videos — but have a backup plan (i.e. a VPN) ready to go if the ban gets more serious.
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