2020 was a difficult year for TikTok in the United States of America. It’s one of the most popular apps in the world, but it sailed dangerously close to receiving an outright ban in the US because of its Chinese ownership. Try as it might, parent company ByteDance couldn’t convince Donald Trump’s administration that it didn’t have connections to the Chinese government. The former President was enormously distrustful of almost all Chinese technology and went as far as signing an order to ban it. The only reason that the government never put it into place is that Trump was placated by a suggestion that an American-based company could purchase the US wing of its operations.
To say that TikTok’s millions of American users were unhappy about the prospects of a ban would be an immense understatement. The majority of TikTok users are young and left-leaning. Most of them didn’t like Trump already. This gave them another reason not to like him and might even – in a very small way – have played a role in ensuring the outspoken former businessman lost the 2020 US Presidential Election. Posting on TikTok is a habit of daily life for many of its uses. It’s become a pop culture sensation and is even the way that some people make the majority of their money. Like YouTube and Twitch, TikTok has become a viable career option for people who are good at it and even has a plethora of “celebrities” who would be unknown to anyone who doesn’t use the app.
There was always likely to be a change in attitude when Democrat Joe Biden replaced Trump in the White House, and so it’s proven to be the case. After only four months in office, Biden has torn up Trump’s proposed TikTok ban and reversed it. He’s also done the same for WeChat – another app with links to China that had incurred the Trump administration’s ire. Trump went over the heads of Congress to introduce the proposed ban by signing a Presidential executive order. Biden got rid of it the same way. He’s happy for TikTok – and, by extension, ByteDance – to carry on doing business in America, but they might not be entirely off the hook just yet. He’s also ordered a full investigation into all apps that could have connections to hostile governments and nations, thereby posing a threat to American security. The investigation should settle the matter of whether ByteDance has anything to hide once and for all.
The US Commerce Department will conduct the investigation in conjunction with other federal agencies. Aside from carrying out research and putting together a comprehensive report, the Commerce Department is invited to make recommendations to the President with regard to the potential need for future executive orders or legislation. Where this leaves Oracle and its potential takeover of the American arm of TikTok is unclear. There’s no longer a need for ByteDance to sell, and the deal had appeared to run into difficulties several months ago anyway. If it wasn’t already dead, Biden might have killed it off with the stroke of a pen.
Critics of the President will complain that he’s softening Trump’s harsh stance on China, but that isn’t entirely true. While he may have rescinded this particular order, Biden has expanded Trump’s previous ban of American companies investing in any Chinese company known or thought to have connections to the Chinese military. A further fifty-nine companies are now off-limits to investors, including any company thought to be connected in any way to the controversial “surveillance” of China’s Muslim population or political dissidents based in Hong Kong. Biden is meeting other leaders from the “Group of 7” nations this week, and it’s thought that even more unilateral actions might be agreed on the back of these meetings.
While this is (for now, at least) good news for TikTok and its users, there’s no such reprieve for Huawei. The Chinese-owned technology company, best known for its smartphones, has been struggling to procure chips for the past twelve months because of bans that have been implemented both in the United States of America and Europe. They were once the largest smartphone manufacturer in the world, but after bans and interventions, they no longer register in the top five. The biggest obstacle to them reclaiming their place among the elite is the fact that Google is specifically banned from giving them access to the Android operating system, effectively forcing the phones to run on old, hack-vulnerable software. Huawei has recently countered this by introducing a new self-built operating system. Whether this allows them to reclaim any of their lost market share remains to be seen, but if they were hoping for a change of approach from the American government, it seems they’re going to be disappointed.
Technology and the internet appear to be at the forefront of the President’s mind at the moment. Aside from TikTok, he’s also rumoured to be considering recommending the legalisation of online slots websites in the United States of America. The legality of such websites is a grey area in many states. Playing online slots is legal in around half of the US’s fifty states, banned in eight or nine, and undefined in others. Now the Supreme Court has relaxed its attitude to sports betting, online slots companies are keen to receive the same treatment. With territory-specific online slots sites like Rose Slots Canada proving to be popular, it’s thought that there’s significant tax revenue to be made for states willing to host them. An influx of new money is precisely what many American states need after the financial devastation of the 2020 pandemic, and this would be an “easy” way to get it. It’s likely to be a controversial topic among conservatives, though, so we don’t expect any progress on that in the remainder of 2021.
For now, though, the headline is that if you enjoy TikTok, you’re free to carry on enjoying it for the foreseeable future. No act of government is about to take it away from you, and if the usual speed of American bureaucracy is anything to go by, we might not see the report and recommendations until halfway through 2022. When there’s more to report, we’ll make sure you’re the first to know.