Before 2020 ended, TikTok’s fate in the US hung in the balance of a few court orders and the results of the elections. It was able to get a slight reprieve when the Biden administration took over, raising hopes it would finally be let off the hook. Part of that did come true when President Biden signed a new Executive Order that drops the bans on TikTok, WeChat, and AliPay. That said, they’re still not out of hot water as they will still be investigated on their alleged ties to the Chinese government.
The root cause of TikTok’s problems is the allegation that ByteDance, the Chinese-based company that owns the popular social network, collects data on behalf of the Chinese government. While some form of data collection is normal for these Internet services, the US government took particular issue with the possibility that US citizens’ data is being used to further China’s espionage activities. Of course, ByteDance and other companies denied such accusations but that didn’t stop the Trump administration from issuing bans.
Trump also gave ByteDance an ultimatum to sell off its US business to US companies but that never came to fruition. Fortunately for ByteDance, courts sided with the TikTok owner in fighting the bans, delaying the execution for months. There will be no more executions, at least for now, but President Biden isn’t giving the companies a clean pass.
The US president’s executive order directs the Commerce Department to instead come up with a more proper framework for acting on such allegations. Rather than immediately banning companies left and right, the framework would determine the national security risks of doing business with companies connected to governments that are often opposed to the US’ ideals, like China.
This EO doesn’t exactly mean that TikTok was innocent all along. It could still be found guilty of really participating in China’s data collection campaign on US citizens but it at least now has more time to prove the contrary.