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TikTok ‘Kill Switch’: Platform Offered US Power To Shutdown App Before Ban Ruling


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TikTok has revealed it offered the US government a “kill switch” to shut down the platform in a bid to address concerns about data protection and national security. This disclosure came as TikTok began its legal battle against a law that would ban the app in the US unless its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, sells it. The potential TikTok ban in the US has become a focal point of debate over digital privacy and international relations.

The law was introduced due to fears that TikTok might share US user data with the Chinese government, a claim that both TikTok and ByteDance have consistently denied. They are now urging the courts to invalidate the legislation, arguing it violates principles of an open internet and unfairly targets TikTok.

TikTok claimed it made significant efforts to comply with US concerns, including the “kill switch” proposal in 2022, which would have given the US government the power to suspend the platform if it violated certain conditions. These conditions were part of a proposed National Security Agreement that required TikTok to adequately fund its data protection units and ensure ByteDance had no access to US user data. The government could trigger the TikTok “kill switch” if the platform breached these rules.

In a letter to the US Department of Justice, TikTok’s lawyer alleged that the government stopped engaging in meaningful negotiations after the proposal. The letter, dated April 1, 2024, also claimed that the government ignored requests for further talks and did not respond to an invitation to inspect TikTok’s Dedicated Transparency Center in Maryland.

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is set to hear oral arguments on the lawsuits filed by TikTok, ByteDance, and TikTok users in September. President Joe Biden signed the legislation in April, giving ByteDance until January next year to divest TikTok’s US assets or face a TikTok ban in the US. The legislation stems from concerns that the platform’s 170 million US users’ data could be accessed by the Chinese government.

TikTok maintains that it does not share foreign users’ data with China and that US data is managed within the country by Oracle, under an initiative known as Project Texas. However, a Wall Street Journal investigation in January 2024 reported that some data was still being shared between TikTok in the US and ByteDance in China.

A US government official told the Washington Post that the proposed solutions from TikTok were insufficient to address the national security risks. The official emphasized that divestment from foreign ownership remains necessary.

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