Getty Images/iStockphoto

U.S. TikTok ban, data broker bills target data practices

Congress is targeting companies' data practices through bills that limit data transfers and transactions to entities headquartered in countries of concern.

Listen to this article. This audio was generated by AI.

The U.S. wants to ban TikTok in a move that could reshape the social media market. At the same time, lawmakers are considering an additional step for data privacy focused on data brokers and the sale of data to foreign countries.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protecting Americans From Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act this week, which mandates that TikTok must divest from Chinese company ByteDance or the U.S. will ban the app. The bill aims to prevent foreign adversaries such as China from "targeting, surveilling, and manipulating the American people through applications, like TikTok," according to an Energy and Commerce Committee news release. The bill applies to any website, mobile or desktop application, or immersive technology application controlled by China or other foreign adversaries such as Russia or North Korea.

On Monday, lawmakers will consider a second companion bill called the Protecting Americans' Data From Foreign Adversaries Act, which focuses on data brokers. The bill would make it unlawful for data brokers to sell the personally identifiable data of U.S. citizens to entities controlled by foreign adversaries, which includes companies with more than 20% ownership by foreign adversaries.

Lawmakers stepping in to ban TikTok has garnered significant attention, largely due to TikTok's visibility with consumers. TikTok's U.S. user base alone totals around 170 million. If the U.S. bans TikTok, it will cause users to shift toward other social media platforms -- a shift that could prompt focus on some of the same issues long facing the social media ecosystem, such as the spread of misinformation.

"It's crucial to recognize that the issues of disinformation and online manipulation are not confined to TikTok alone," said James Mawhinney, CEO of, in a statement.

Effects of U.S. ban on TikTok

One of the concerns lawmakers expressed about TikTok was related to the spread of misinformation. Banning TikTok could stymie the dissemination of misinformation in part, Mawhinney said.

"A ban on the platform could disrupt the dissemination of false or misleading information to its vast user base, potentially mitigating the harmful effects of viral misinformation campaigns," Mawhinney said.

However, banning TikTok will only solve the problem of misinformation spreading on one app, leaving other social media platforms -- such as X, formerly known as Twitter; YouTube; and Meta's Instagram and Facebook -- to continue dealing with the problem. Mawhinney said this points to the need for more comprehensive approaches to combating misinformation online -- something Congress has tried and failed to address over the years.

Mawhinney said banning TikTok could reshape the broader social media ecosystem. If the app is banned, users will be forced to alternative platforms in search of experiences similar to TikTok or expand existing social media apps' user bases.

"This influx of users could reshape the dynamics of the social media landscape, influencing trends in content creation, user engagement and platform competition," he said. "Additionally, the ban could prompt other social media companies to reevaluate their own data security practices and ties to foreign entities as scrutiny over tech regulation intensifies."

There's obviously a market for this kind of outlet, so I think people would migrate to alternatives that they think are inferior compared to the original TikTok.
Sarah KrepsDirector, Tech Policy Institute, Cornell University

Indeed, once TikTok is no longer "fun and easy," users could flock to other platforms, said Sarah Kreps, director of the Tech Policy Institute at Cornell University.

"There's obviously a market for this kind of outlet, so I think people would migrate to alternatives that they think are inferior compared to the original TikTok," she said.

Should the U.S. ban social media app TikTok, it wouldn't be the first time Congress has gone after an app for data privacy and national security reasons. In 2019, the U.S. government demanded the sale of Grindr from its Chinese owners, Beijing Kunlun Tech. The Chinese gaming company completed the sale in 2020 to San Vicente Acquisition after receiving approval from the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

The U.S. government has "complete control over the airwaves," generally through the Federal Communications Commission, meaning that it regulates radio, television and the internet, Kreps said. That also means apps such as TikTok can fall under Congress's purview.

U.S. mulls additional data privacy measures

In the companion measure to the bill requiring the divestiture of TikTok from ByteDance, lawmakers want to stop data brokers from selling sensitive U.S. data to foreign countries of concern.

"It's more about the bulk data transactions themselves and not an application-specific focus," said Cobun Zweifel-Keegan, managing director of the International Association of Privacy Professionals in Washington.

Data brokers are defined as entities that sell, license, transfer or trade U.S. consumer data that was not collected directly from consumers. It includes precise geolocation data, financial data, biometric information, health data and other information.

Some of the provisions within the data broker bill could help to increase the standards that companies are subject to when they share data with third parties, Zweifel-Keegan said. Both the U.S. TikTok ban and the data broker measure could put pressure on companies to ensure they're doing due diligence when it comes to selling data, he said.

"At a bare minimum, [it's about] knowing who you're selling data to," he said. "Part of knowing who you're selling data to is knowing that the recipient is in a certain country or is associated with a certain country."

The bill follows President Joe Biden's executive order on data security issued in February, which authorized the U.S. Attorney General to stop the large-scale transfer of U.S. consumers' data to countries of concern.

"The executive branch has been heavily engaged ... but clearly that's not enough for Congress in terms of thinking about these risks," Zweifel-Keegan said.

Makenzie Holland is a senior news writer covering big tech and federal regulation. Prior to joining TechTarget Editorial, she was a general reporter for the Wilmington StarNews and a crime and education reporter at the Wabash Plain Dealer.

Dig Deeper on CIO strategy

Cloud Computing
Mobile Computing
Data Center
and ESG