What Would Happen If America Bans TikTok?

The US House of Representatives has finally passed a bill that could lead to the banning of the TikTok app nationwide.

While the Chinese-owned app won’t vanish from American phones anytime soon, many of its 170 million users in the country are feeling significant concern. Some are even questioning whether it’s possible to survive and thrive in a world without TikTok.

A Previous Example in India

In June 2020, the Indian government abruptly banned TikTok and many other well-known Chinese apps due to violent clashes on the Sino-Indian border, with the United States being the first to praise the Indian decision.

While the Indian decision shocked TikTok’s 200 million users in the country, many found suitable alternatives over the following four years. The banning of TikTok also created a multi-billion dollar opportunity for American technology companies, which capitalized on their new offerings.

Fierce competition erupted between global tech giants and local startups in India, in an attempt to woo TikTok users. Instagram, owned by Meta, benefited from launching a TikTok-like version called “Instagram Reels.” Google also rolled out its own short video offering called “YouTube Shorts.” Indian content creators quickly shifted all their previous TikTok content to these two American platforms, but not everyone could build as large of a fan base on these platforms as they did on TikTok.

Consequences of the Ban

If the United States bans TikTok, initially, Apple and Google will remove it from their app stores immediately. This means the app will no longer be available for download after the ban. However, Google and Apple cannot remove the app from phones if it’s already installed.

In theory, the user will still be able to access the service, albeit now with a limited audience. However, Congress could eventually compel internet service providers to block access to TikTok, effectively killing TikTok’s underlying system, whether the user already has the app installed or not. This is what the Indian government did by banning TikTok, so nobody could access the app.

Over time, since the app won’t be able to receive future updates, it will remain on the last available version before the ban goes into effect. This poses a problem for two main reasons. Firstly, TikTok developers won’t be able to release security updates to address any future security vulnerabilities, which poses a significant security risk if malicious hackers discover a security flaw in TikTok. Therefore, the user will be left vulnerable to attack, and the operating company of TikTok won’t be able to do anything to help.

The second problem is an existential one that threatens TikTok, because banning updates won’t be limited to fixing security vulnerabilities, but TikTok won’t be able to send out general updates anymore to keep the app running on iPhones and Androids, and ultimately, the app will lose compatibility with the latest operating system versions and cease to function.

What Will Americans Do?

US officials express concerns that the Chinese government may force ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, to hand over data collected from American users, or that the app will also become a tool for Beijing to spread propaganda, misleading information, or influence Americans.

Some cybersecurity experts argue that banning TikTok from the national digital life won’t guarantee a safer space unless there’s a gradual shift in user awareness of the apps on their phone and what they download from the internet.

According to many reports, the previous banning of TikTok in India didn’t end those threats, as while TikTok users in the US worry about losing access to the hugely popular social media app, there are lessons they can learn from a country on the other side of the world.

The majority will likely migrate to other platforms like “Instagram Reels” and “YouTube Shorts” as quickly as possible, with some already starting to do so. However, on a personal level, the ban on TikTok will result in financial losses for many users who benefited from the app.

So it’s natural for some Americans to look for ways to bypass the ban, such as using networks that make your connection appear to come from another country. Additionally, updates to the app or updated versions of it may be circulated on the dark web and purchased and downloaded onto phones.

There are also voices wondering why the government is concerned about serious solutions to TikTok’s problems but does nothing to prevent massive data leaks from other Chinese apps used by Americans.

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