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Is TikTok’s “Wild West” era coming to an end?

Government-FTC-TikTok-Investigation-thefutureparty
Illustration by Kate Walker

Is TikTok’s “Wild West” era coming to an end?

 

The Future. With over a billion users glued to their screens, TikTok has become the most popular website in the world, defining every aspect of American culture — from the music business to Hollywood. TikTok’s parent company (ByteDance) is based in China and has recently been accused of allowing unmitigated access to American user data. The U.S. is now pushing for an investigation, even a ban, which could signal the end of TikTok’s “Wild West” era.

The clock is ticking
The fact that TikTok has managed to dodge regulation up until this point is impressive, considering how often it’s been targeted.

    • September 2020: President Donald Trump tries to ban TikTok — a move that lacks bipartisan political support (31% of Americans approved the ban at the time).
    • January 2021: India bans TikTok (the platform’s largest market).
    • October 2021: A Senate hearing concludes with Big Tech (particularly TikTok) being accused of preying on children and teens.
    • June 2022: BuzzFeed drops bombshell evidence that Chinese engineers are “repeatedly” accessing TikTok user data, despite the brand’s incessant denial.
    • July 2022: As reported in the NYT, TikTok confirms China is accessing user data but on a limited “approved protocol” basis with “robust cybersecurity controls.”

End of an era
As TikTok has grown exponentially over the past five years (its revenue in 2021 was $4 billion), so has its suspicion: the Senate Intelligence Committee recently sent a bipartisan letter to the FTC asking for an investigation into TikTok, which some US officials view as a cybersecurity threat.

This move was followed by the FCC commissioner calling on Apple and Google to ban TikTok.

Time’s up?
Will the U.S. go the way of India and ban TikTok? Some folks believe it’s inevitable.

  • “The FCC can’t do anything,” civil litigator Christa Ramey tells TheWrap. “They have no regulatory power over social media, app stores or software.” But bipartisan scrutiny is growing.

While a ban is unlikely by the FCC, the increasing focus on TikTok’s influence over American culture will amplify the pressure from every direction, including U.S. lawmakers and intelligence agencies.

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