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Can the Government Really Ban TikTok?

The Tik Tok app is displayed on an Apple iPhone
By Ashley Ravid on July 27, 2020 8:09 AM

Trump has more reasons than simply "punishing" China for the coronavirus when he discusses banning TikTok in the United States. Countries around the world are concerned that the mega-popular app may be aiding the Chinese government in surveilling and collecting information on users across the globe. But can the government really ban the app? What would that even look like?

Big Tech v. Trump

The Trump administration has gone head to head with large tech companies like Facebook and Twitter over disagreements about fact-checking, user liability, and more. However, most big tech companies do not seem overly concerned with Trump's threats of crackdowns, considering the president to be mostly posturing.

Compared to other places like the European Union, which has heavily fined technology conglomerates, hitting tech companies where it hurts is harder here.

Tech companies have operations bases across the world, decreasing their liabilities in many nations, and they also have the funds and high-powered lawyers to challenge any attempted restrictive legislation. Precedent is on their side, as well: The U.S. justice system places the burden of proof on the government to prove that it has the right to interfere with businesses, online freedom of speech, and other areas in which big tech clashes with Uncle Sam.

And even hefty fines can only do so much when Amazon, for example, made over $87 billion in the last quarter of 2019 alone.

Is the Clock Ticking for TikTok?

In some countries, yes. Following a border skirmish that left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead, India banned dozens of Chinese apps, including TikTok. But it's important to recognize that what happens in one country is not always an accurate indicator of what is likely or even possible in another.

In countries where the government has more control over the media and internet access, banning an app is not much of a challenge.

The U.S. government, however, doesn't really have the authority or legal avenue to outright ban TikTok. They can, however, impose fines after data privacy investigations or possibly limit the app's influence in other ways.

Dancing Around Regulations

Some federal government agencies have banned the installation of the app on government work-related devices. Some other individual companies like Wells Fargo and Amazon (which later retracted the policy) have done the same, but most private citizens — especially those using personal devices — aren't required to comply with the restrictive security policies that some government higher-ups may be.

Your employer may ban you from downloading TikTok on a work-related device, but chances are that they do not have the right to prevent you from dancing your heart out on your own phone in your time off. Even if harder crackdowns on TikTok are put into motion, U.S. companies acquiring a majority stake in the app may put the government's concerns to rest for the most part.

So get out there and learn the Renegade, if you want. But ... maybe make sure that you don't have any vital security data on your phone first.

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