Pompeo Says US May Ban TikTok; It's Not Clear That It Can

from the or-should dept

New day, new nonsense. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did his Pompeo thing and went on Fox News saying that the US is looking at banning apps from China in the US, with a focus on TikTok, the incredibly popular social media app that is owned by the Chinese firm ByteDance:

The United States is “looking at” banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday.

Pompeo suggested the possible move during an interview with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, adding that “we’re taking this very seriously.”

Pompeo was asked by Ingraham whether the United States should be considering a ban on Chinese social media apps, “especially TikTok.”

“With respect to Chinese apps on people’s cell phones, I can assure you the United States will get this one right too, Laura,” he said. “I don’t want to get out in front of the President [Donald Trump], but it’s something we’re looking at.”

It’s difficult to know where to start on this, but let’s at least start by admitting that TikTok has some sketchy issues. We’ve talked about how its content moderation practices may be driven from Beijing’s moral stance (despite denials) and there were recent claims from someone associated with anonymous claiming to have reverse engineered TikTok, saying that it’s a security disaster (it’s not at all clear how accurate that is). At the same time, India just banned TikTok and other Chinese apps over security fears.

So there may be some legitimate concerns here, though a lot of that is based on innuendo and rumor rather than concrete evidence. And, again, we’ve seen this game before. The US spent years spreading security panic about Chinese networking equipment from companies like Huawei and ZTE, without ever actually proving any problems with the hardware (in fact, a massive US government investigation turned up nothing).

But, as we’ve noted, it’s often been difficult to tell where the complaints against Chinese networking hardware end, and where the lobbying from American telco equipment firms like Cisco begin, as there appears to be substantial overlap. There’s no evidence to say that’s true with this new story of an app ban, but it should be noted that Mark Zuckerberg is clearly very, very worried about TikTok, so the US banning the company that seems to be a favorite of the younger generation certainly wouldn’t be protested very much by Facebook.

That said, there are real legal questions about whether or not the US even could ban TikTok in the US. Under what law would they do so? While owned by ByteDance in China, TikTok has spent the last few years separating TikTok’s business from ByteDance, hiring a ton of people in the US and insisting that data from TikTok users is kept in the US (or Singapore) and not in China. ByteDance has also considered selling off TikTok to avoid these concerns.

So it seems incredibly likely that any effort to bar TikTok would raise a whole bunch of legal concerns — starting with a basic 1st Amendment concern. The US government can’t just say “you can’t use that social media app.” That may be how things work in China or India, but not in the US. And, of course, it would likely set off a chain reaction elsewhere as well. China already bans most major US apps and services, but we’re still dealing with a pointless trade war that would only be exacerbated by such a move.

There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about TikTok, it’s connections to China, and the security of the app. But none of that means that the US government has the right to just ban it. While Trump may want to pretend he’s a dictator, and Pompeo may want to pretend he works for a dictator, that’s not how any of this works.

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Companies: bytedance, tiktok

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Comments on “Pompeo Says US May Ban TikTok; It's Not Clear That It Can”

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48 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Norahc (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Technically, Pompeo can say those words. Whether he (and the rest of the federal government) can enforce that dictate, on the other hand…

Oh they could enforce it alright.. Have ICE seize the domains, while cops raid the US offices in body armor and at gunpoint a la Kim Dotcom and Mega. That would give them a few years while TikTok fights it in court. Even if the government eventually loses the court case, the harm to TikTok would have already been done.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"Have ICE seize the domains, while cops raid the US offices in body armor and at gunpoint a la Kim Dotcom and Mega."

With TikTok being a chinese company that might be a bit more tricky to pull off. Assume the domain is or will be mirrored on a chinese one. Assume the US offices contain nothing but perfectly normal US corporate workers, assume the odds of getting TikTok’s owners and managers out of Beijing to be…slim.

Essentially what the US can do is what it currently does – streisand TikTok to the nth degree which probably won’t result in its lowered popularity.

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"What the heck happened to this website? It’s full of Marxist brainwashing now."

I can’t say whether this is the twentieth or the thirtieth time you’ve swung around trying to claim Techdirt is somehow "different" than it used to be when you first started trying to imply we’d all become…let’s see….first it was pro-pirates, then it was liberals, then it was for the mentally disabled – at which point you also issued rape threats as I recall – and now we’re suddenly brainwashing marxists?

I’m guessing that if you are still here desperately trying to imply that techdirt is <insert Bad Thing here> the site must be doing something very right.

And that you are the most vocal whenever the topic is government overreach or civil rights issues tells us all we need to know WHY you keep trying to undermine the debate at hand.

What I still can’t figure out is why you expect that at some point your impromptu attempt at smearing mud on the site will actually stick. You’re just being the analogue of the pale white supremacist skinhead who thinks people will believe he’s a "black antifan terrorist" if he starts tossing firebombs while attending a black lives matter rally with badly applied blackface.

The only thing your persistent little barbs demonstrably prove is that most of our assumptions about the pro-trumpers and the racists out there are correct.

Oh, and that you lot are still traumatized about the Woman Candidate and the Black Man in the White House. Took a long long time for you to not end every sentence with a "But Obama" didn’t it?

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

^^^^^^^^^^
See, even this person gets a opinion.

The real thing is to Not be so Far out in the boonies that your comments mean nothing.

I get confused when the republicans declare they are Conservative, and Pro corporation.. Expecting corps in a capitalist system to Do anything FOR THE PEOPLE, is being really ignorant.

When there was a corp 90% tax rate, I dont think the public paid that much in taxes..WHY is this reversed?? Look it up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“The only thing your persistent little barbs demonstrably prove is that most of our assumptions about the pro-trumpers and the racists out there are correct.”

One person’s barbs prove your “assumptions” about an entire group of people? Of course it does. That is the liberal way. You make statements like that and then cry about stereotyping. Hypocrites.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
David says:

Better than that:

The US government can’t just say "you can’t use that social media app." That may be how things work in China or India, but not in the US.

In the U.S., the president can order a drone strike on you if you don’t remove the app from your phone. That’s sort of the legal standard established under Obama, and if you think that Trump would balk at availing himself of it (even though he will try to abolish any actual progress Obama was responsible for), you are sadly mistaken.

Agammamon says:

Re: Re: Re:

You would have thought the public relations nightmare of bombing weddings or the PR nightmare of having a deliberate ‘second strike’ (where you deliberately wait around until first responders come to deal with your first strike and then launch a second at them) would have been enough to do something.

It didn’t. They just reclassified all BSP males between 15 and 50 and called it good.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"Would the act of bombing someone for using TikTok outweigh the public relations nightmare for carrying out that act?"

Trump would order drone strikes based on what he heard on Fox News this morning – and then double down on trying to make it him calling that strike on an antifan terrorist when he discovers he dun goofed. Or in his own words, "never admit".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Better than that:

Inside this country? No, there isn’t a precedent for that. Obama’s and predecessors’ legal standards are serious crap, but even killing US citizens outside the country, uh… intentionally, is still not legally cool unless they can be labeled as enemy combatants. (or, are like, the wrong color or religion or something.)

Sure, i envision a day when it will happen, but you aren’t supposed to deploy the US military against citizens, and not inside the country. Drones count. Now, if they are selling fully armed UAV to the cops and FBI… who knows.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Better than that:

"…unless they can be labeled as enemy combatants."

Which, under GWB’s patriot act, is a matter of anyone sufficiently high in the ranks making a statement to that effect.

"…but you aren’t supposed to deploy the US military against citizens, and not inside the country."

There’s a wiki entry on the "insurrection act of 1807" and the "state of emergency" declaration. After which, read the "kent state shootings" entry.

The US has been very keen on deploying military against its own citizenry compared to most other G20 nations.

Agammamon says:

That said, there are real legal questions about whether or not the US even could ban TikTok in the US. Under what law would they do so?

That’s one question. The other is how, even if they could find legal cover, could they physically ban it? How could you prevent people from downloading the app or prevent connection to Tik-Tok’s servers?

Finally, I don’t understand why people are freaking out about this. I am told that private surveillance is bad but its ok for the government to have your information – well, government is getting your information.

More seriously though – I’m not sure why this is an issue for ‘normal’ people that the government needs to step in and deal with. Yes, anyone who deals with sensitive/confidential info should avoid Tik-Tok like the plague. Anyone who needs their location to not be tracked, likewise.

But that issue is not unique to Tik-Tok. Google maps does the same shit. Fitness trackers. Facebook. Twitter. The app your local grocery store wants you to download for ‘deals’. They’re all surveillance aggregators.

If they’re going after Tik-Tok then they should go after everything. Scorch the motherfucking earth.

Upstream (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The other is how, even if they could find legal cover, could they physically ban it? How could you prevent people from downloading the app or prevent connection to Tik-Tok’s servers?

Ever hear of The Great Firewall? The US could do something similar, and somehow I think it could probably be done much faster than we would like to believe. And if Tik-Tok servers are located in the US, it would be that much easier to simply shut them down.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"The other is how, even if they could find legal cover, could they physically ban it?"

They can’t. Even if they legally required Google to remove it from Play servers, there’s many other ways to install an Android app (iTunes might be more difficult, but there are ways). Even if they legally required all ISPs to block TikTok’s IPs, VPNs exist, and unofficial proxies could be set up in the US as well. Whatever block is put in place, a route around the block will be available.

"Finally, I don’t understand why people are freaking out about this. "

I don’t think they are, really. There’s certainly privacy and other issues raised with TikTok, Zoom and other apps with supposed links to China, and some people are concerned.

But, the only person who appears to be "freaking out" is the buffoon who got trolled by TikTok users into thinking way more people were stupid enough to turn up to his ego rally than actually turned up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Also foreign visitors to the country could set up a VPN on their home computers before travelling.

I do that when I take road trips so I can bypass filtering on hotel networks or other public wifi services

Some do block all streaming and using my homebrew VPN bypasses that which does not break any laws anywhere in canada, Mexico, or the united states

Anonymous Coward says:

Tik Tok is the new YouTube at least for young people, it works with music company’s to promote new hits, the next Bieber will probably be found on tik Tok, some hits have started off there. Its not being used to host infringing content , as Kim ditcom was accused of.
Of course facebook is worried, tik Tok is very popular with teens , music plus short videos is a hard formula to beat.
Tik Tok been just banned in India along with a host of China based apps.
Trump can’t just bánn tik Tok just because it was invented in China

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Trump can’t just bánn tik Tok just because it was invented in China…"

Why not? His current beef with it appears to be that he got trolled by a bunch of young people about the amount of people expected to attend his rally.

It’s pretty telling that after all the horrible shit we’ve seen during his administration – children kidnapped and put in cages, the messes emerging during the mueller probe, the live camera recording of an officer brutally murdering a black man…what really got to him was the sight of empty seats in the place he held a speech.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Look at any of Trump’s tweets. He constantly talks about ratings. Look at any of Trump’s actions over the first few years. The facts didn’t matter so long as he has his rallies and he got Fox/OAN to tell him how special and popular he was. If he was told he wasn’t that special or popular, he’d just fire the person delivering the news and/or install a donor or family member in that position to keep up the charade.

It must have really stung to have a small slice of reality in front of his face like that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Good luck enforcing that

People will use vpns and proxies to get around it

And some users near the Canadian border get wireless internet from Canada, 3specially those in montana, idaho, and north Dakota where broadband is otherwise not available

ISPs in Canada are only subject to CRTC rules, even if they are transmitting to customers in.the usa.

In short, us law does not apply to ISPs in canada even if some of their customers are in.the USA

Wireleds ISPs in canada only have to obey Canadian laws

cattress (profile) says:

It's not just for kids

Hi everyone. My name is Erin, I’m 39 years old, and I fall down a Tiktok hole for hours at a time, and I really enjoy it. I know I’m not the only one, no need to be ashamed.
There are people of all ages, though I haven’t seen any content of children that didn’t come from the parents. And there are some really talented people out there, I am inspired. And I’ve been educated on some things I didn’t know, and I have laughed to tears more in the last few weeks since I downloaded the app than ever in my life.
From what I can tell, this is a super supportive, very inclusive community, though that could be the algorithm I fit into. I read before that certain people were scrubbed from the app because of size, or handicap, and based on what I’ve seen it doesn’t seem to still be the case.
I think this is all part of Trump’s administration of blame and grievance selective attention span.

Shaun Wilson (profile) says:

The real problem

It’s actually a matter of jealousy, the US politicians are jealous of those politicians in China who have the power to successfully order censorship on local websites/apps and the banning of foreign ones. Since the US politicians are having little luck instituting censorship on local websites/apps they want to prove (perhaps even to themselves) that this lack of relative power isn’t so broad, at least they can ban foreign apps/websites.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re:

“The only thing your persistent little barbs demonstrably prove is that most of our assumptions about the pro-trumpers and the racists out there are correct.”

One person’s barbs prove your “assumptions” about an entire group of people? Of course it does. That is the liberal way. You make statements like that and then cry about stereotyping. Hypocrites.

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