The Biden administration recently told TikTok it wanted the app’s Chinese owners to sell their stakes or face a possible ban in the United States. But that plan hit a new roadblock on Thursday when the Chinese government said it would oppose a sale.
If the White House can’t force a sale, that would effectively leave it with two options to resolve concerns that TikTok could expose Americans’ data to Beijing or act as a conduit for misinformation.
The White House could try to ban the app inside the United States, possibly by cutting off its access to Apple’s and Google’s app stores. But that might be impossible without legislation from Congress giving the administration more power. After former President Donald J. Trump tried to ban the app, federal courts ruled he didn’t have the power to do so, limiting the options available to President Biden.AdvertisementAdvertisement
The administration could also revisit a deal it had been negotiating with TikTok for years that would allow it to keep operating in the United States. Under the proposal, the app would store the data of its U.S. users on Oracle servers in America. The American company would also monitor how the app’s algorithm recommends content to users, as a possible hedge against the app being used to spread Chinese government disinformation and propaganda. But that proposal has been met with skepticism from some of the administration’s top players, including those at the Justice Department and in the White House.
Any decision to remove the app, either banning it for 150 million users in the United States or blocking further downloads, would also be politically fraught for Mr. Biden. No one encapsulated the political dilemma more pithily than Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, who is at the center of new export controls imposed on high-technology goods to China.
“The politician in me thinks you’re going to literally lose every voter under 35, forever,” she said recently to Bloomberg News.
Ms. Raimondo and other officials quickly add that bad politics is no reason to back away from a total ban if the national security threat warrants it. The problem is made more complex by the fact that some of the world’s largest news organizations, including The New York Times, now have TikTok accounts, meaning that shutting down the app could appear to be shutting down the spread of fact-based news to counter Chinese disinformation.