U.S. moves to ban TikTok. Are other apps at risk?

Privacy news
7 mins

The U.S. Congress recently passed legislation titled the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act. This law, signed by President Joe Biden on April 24, 2024 mandates ByteDance, the Chinese company that owns TikTok, to sell its stake in the app within a year or face a ban in the U.S. The legislation highlights the government’s continued national security concerns over foreign-owned apps that hold significant popularity and influence in the U.S.

What could this mean for TikTok and other foreign-owned apps? Here’s what you need to know. 

Explainer: Why the U.S. is moving to ban TikTok 

The U.S. government’s push to potentially ban TikTok centers on national security concerns. Officials are worried that ByteDance could be compelled to hand over U.S. user data or influence content under Chinese laws that require companies to cooperate with the state.

The app collects vast amounts of user data, including browsing history, location data, and device identifiers, which could potentially be accessed by the Chinese government. Moreover, there’s apprehension about the platform possibly being used to spread content that could sway U.S. public opinion.

Is this bill different from the U.S. Restrict Act?

Yes. While both the U.S. Restrict Act and the Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act are concerned with national security and foreign influence on U.S. technology, their approaches and scopes differ significantly. The latter directly targets TikTok and mandates divestiture to prevent a ban, focusing on a specific high-profile case. 

In contrast, the Restrict Act employs a broader strategy, granting the Commerce Department powers to oversee and potentially regulate transactions and activities of tech entities under foreign adversarial control, without singling out specific companies. 

So ByteDance has a year to sell TikTok?

Kind of. ByteDance has been granted a nine-month period to find a buyer for TikTok, ensuring that the platform can continue operating in the U.S. under new ownership. This period can be extended by an additional three months by the President, based on ByteDance showing substantive progress toward a sale. This new timeline offers a more extended window compared to the previously discussed 180-day deadline, reflecting the complexity and significance of finding a suitable buyer for such a widely used social platform.

However, TikTok plans to launch a lawsuit against the “ban” bill. This might postpone the requirement to sell the app. If the courts choose to wait for the outcome of the legal case before enforcing the law, this could delay any actions TikTok would need to take to comply with the divestiture mandate.

What happens if TikTok gets banned in the U.S.?

Unless the courts deem otherwise, if TikTok fails to comply with the mandate within the given timeframe, this would lead to a full ban of TikTok in the U.S. Here are a few of the potential consequences if that happens:

  • The enforcement could include blocking access to TikTok from within the United States and potentially placing pressure on app stores to remove TikTok from their platforms, similar to previous actions considered against other foreign-owned apps deemed security risks.
  • A failure to divest or an enforced ban would severely impact TikTok’s operations and its financial health. Losing access to the U.S. market—one of its largest—could result in significant revenue losses and undermine the platform’s global market strategy. It would also affect advertising revenue and partnerships that are central to TikTok’s business model.
  • For U.S. TikTok creators, the ban could significantly impact their content creation and distribution—likely affecting many livelihoods. Creators might migrate to alternative platforms, which could see a rise in popularity as users seek replacements. TikTok competitors such as Instagram Reels, YouTube Shorts, and new emerging platforms would likely gain a larger share of the digital social space. This shift would impact the broader ecosystem of digital content and influencer marketing.

Can users circumvent a potential TikTok ban in the U.S.?

If TikTok faces a ban in the U.S., accessing it will become significantly harder but not impossible. When visiting TikTok with a browser, it would be possible to bypass location-based restrictions by using a VPN. When using apps within mobile devices, while VPNs could work, it’s possible that the app will determine user location via SIM card rather than IP address (as is the case in some places where it’s banned). The method used to enforce the ban will determine the solution.

What is TikTok’s response?

TikTok has actively voiced its objections following the enactment of the new legislation. Alex Haurek, a TikTok spokesperson, confirmed that the company plans to fight the law in court: “As we continue to challenge this unconstitutional ban, we will continue investing and innovating to ensure TikTok remains a space where Americans of all walks of life can safely come to share their experiences, find joy, and be inspired,” he said.

TikTok’s CEO, Shou Chew, also openly criticized the new law, challenging the idea that selling TikTok is just about separating it from Chinese ownership. In a video, Chew called the law a direct ban on TikTok, emphasizing its impact not just on the app itself but also on its users.

He said: “It’s obviously a disappointing moment but it doesn’t need to be a defining one. It’s actually ironic because the freedom of expression on TikTok reflects the same American values that make the United States a beacon of freedom.”

Chew went on to assure users of TikTok’s commitment to continue operating in the U.S. “Rest assured, we aren’t going anywhere,” he said. “We are confident and we will keep fighting for your rights in the courts. The facts and the Consitution are on our side, and we expect to prevail again.”

If TikTok is banned, are these apps next?

Should a TikTok ban come into effect, the U.S. might scrutinize other apps that carry similar privacy concerns. Here are a few examples.


WeChat is an instant messaging, social media, and payment app developed by Tencent.

The super app has something like a billion users globally, with a much smaller figure of about 19 million users in the U.S. It’s likely that people living in America use WeChat to communicate with those overseas or are recent arrivals to the U.S. and more accustomed to WeChat than other chat apps. 

In 2020, former U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order prohibiting transactions with eight payment apps, including WeChat, alleging that these apps threaten national security. However, the order was blocked.


CapCut is a video-editing app developed by ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok. CapCut exists both as a standalone app and as an integration within TikTok. Users who edit their videos natively on TikTok are actually using CapCut’s editing functionality and music library.

While CapCut’s fate is uncertain, it’s safe to assume that the app might also be scrutinized, given its parent company.


Shein is a fast-fashion online retailer peddling affordable clothes, accessories, and beauty products. Based on data from Business of Apps, the U.S. is one of Shein’s largest markets, followed by Brazil and Mexico. While discussions about the brand’s data collection and privacy have been minimal, the company is linked to multiple controversies. 

Most recently, a coalition known as Shut Down Shein has been set up to educate Americans about the fashion brand and its alleged dodgy dealings. 


Temu is an online marketplace selling everyday items at affordable prices. Based in the U.S., the e-commerce platform is a subsidiary of PDD Holdings, which owns Pinduoduo, a popular shopping app that’s come under fire for spying capabilities.

Thanks to an aggressive ad strategy, Temu is now the second-most popular shopping app in the U.S. as measured by monthly users, behind Amazon.


Like Temu and Shein, AliExpress is an online marketplace popular among Americans for its affordable items. In the U.S., AliExpress has been compared to eBay. In 2022, the Office of the United States Trade Representative added the platform to its Notorious Marketplaces for Counterfeiting and Piracy list. Other apps on the list include WeChat, Taobao, Baidu, and DHGate.com.

What does a potential TikTok ban signal for digital rights and freedom?

A TikTok ban in the U.S., along with restrictions on other apps, would raise critical questions about digital rights and freedom, spotlighting the tension between national security and the open internet. 

It should be noted that U.S. social media platforms are banned in China. And this move by the U.S. suggests increased government oversight in the digital realm for the U.S. 

It’s another step toward the concept of the “splinternet,” an internet that is split into multiple webs based mainly on your location. This runs counter to the original spirit behind the internet, a place that was decentralized, with all data treated the same (net neutrality), catering to everyone on a wide variety of devices, and with universal standards.

What are your thoughts on the bill to ban TikTok in the U.S. and the potential restrictions on other foreign-owned apps?

FAQ: About U.S. app bans

Why is TikTok being banned in the U.S.?
What will happen to TikTok?
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