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TikTok is calling on its own users to protest

The US Congress is planning a law to oblige the Chinese company Bytedance to give up control of TikTok in the USA. The short video service is defending itself against this – with the help of its own users.

The operators of the Chinese online platform TikTok are mobilizing users in the USA in order to prevent an impending ban on the service in the United States. A bill is currently being drafted in the US Congress that would require the owner company Bytedance to sell TikTok.

According to its own information, TikTok has around 170 million users in the USA. The service sent the following message to their cell phones: “Congress is planning a total ban on TikTok.” The recipients were also given the opportunity to contact the office of the MP in their own constituency.

As the website “The Information” reported, the strategy worked: an office was “so flooded with calls” that the employees finally turned off the phones.

Courts rule against ban

The controversy over TikTok has been going on in the USA for years. Former US President Donald Trump campaigned for a ban on service in the USA during his term in office. The reason: The concern that China could collect user data via TikTok. However, it has not yet been possible to legally enforce an end to the platform. Courts viewed a ban as a threat of legal violation, for example because freedom of speech could be restricted.

The US state of Montana still took the plunge in April of last year and banned TikTok. Both the operators of the service and several users filed a lawsuit against it – with success. In early December 2023, a federal judge put Montana's decision on hold. In the same month, however, a ban on US lawmakers came into force, banning TikTok from work cell phones. In addition to the USA, Canada and the EU Commission also issued such bans.

TikTok rejects concerns

But in the US Congress, a possible ban has support in both Republican and Democratic ranks. That is why, according to a draft law, Bytedance should be obliged to separate from the short video platform. If the law comes into force, the Chinese company would have six months to do so. Otherwise, the service should be banned from the app stores in the USA. On Thursday, the bill cleared another hurdle: the Energy and Commerce Committee of the US House of Representatives voted unanimously in favor of the plans.

The operators of TikTok reject concerns that Chinese authorities could access data via the service and emphasize that Bytedance is 60 percent owned by Western investors. The company headquarters are on the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean. Critics counter that the Chinese founders, with a share of 20 percent, maintained control thanks to higher voting rights and that Bytedance has a large headquarters in Beijing.

However, Bytedance had to admit at the end of 2022 that employees had accessed users' personal data via TikTok in at least two cases.

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