TikTok will no longer be allowed on US government-owned devices under the bipartisan spending bill that was approved by both chambers of Congress on Friday, underscoring the growing concern about the well-known video-sharing app owned by China’s ByteDance.
The bill, which still needs to be signed into law by President Joe Biden, also requires businesses considering large mergers to pay more to file with federal antitrust agencies and requires e-commerce platforms to conduct more due diligence to help prevent the sale of counterfeit goods online.
Many of the most aggressive tech-related bills that Congress tried to pass fell short, including antitrust legislation that would have required Apple and Google’s app stores to offer developers more payment options and a bill requiring new safety measures for children online.
Additionally, despite the fact that Congress made progress toward a compromise bill on national privacy standards this year compared to previous years, a patchwork of state laws still govern how consumer data is protected.
The exclusion of several antitrust bills that would have targeted its backers, which include Apple, Amazon, Google, and Meta, was applauded by the center-left tech industry group Chamber of Progress.
“What you don’t see in this year’s omnibus are the more controversial measures that have raised red flags on issues like content moderation,” Chamber of Progress CEO Adam Kovacevich said in a statement following the release of the package text earlier this week. The group earlier raised concerns about a prominent antitrust measure, the American Innovation and Choice Online Act.
NetChoice, a different industry organization, praised Congress for “refusing to include radical and unchecked progressive proposals to overhaul American antitrust law in this omnibus.”
But the legislation that the legislature passed as part of the spending package will still have an impact on technology in other ways.
TikTok’s removal from government-owned devices may help competing apps like Snap’s Facebook and Instagram and Meta’s Facebook, which compete for the attention of young users. The bill makes an exception for uses related to national security, law enforcement, and research.
Since businesses based in China may be required by law to hand over user information, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed concern that TikTok’s ownership structure could make U.S. user data vulnerable.
Although TikTok has repeatedly insisted that the data it collects from American users is not stored in China, this assurance hasn’t done much to allay worries.
Through the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US, the company has been attempting to reach an agreement with the administration to allay concerns about national security.
“We’re disappointed that Congress has moved to ban TikTok on government devices — a political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests — rather than encouraging the Administration to conclude its national security review,” a TikTok spokesperson said in a statement following the release of the package text. “The agreement under review by CFIUS will meaningfully address any security concerns that have been raised at both the federal and state level. These plans have been developed under the oversight of our country’s top national security agencies — plans that we are well underway in implementing — to further secure our platform in the United States, and we will continue to brief lawmakers on them.”
The INFORM Consumers Act, which aims to prevent the online sale of fake, stolen, or harmful goods, is also included in the spending package. The bill mandates that online marketplaces like Amazon quickly gather and verify data from “any high-volume third party seller,” including bank and contact information.
Amazon initially opposed the bill last year, writing that it was “pushed by some big-box retailers” and asserting that it would penalize small companies that sell online. However, the company ultimately supported a version of the bill, arguing that it was crucial to have a federal standard rather than a patchwork of state laws. eBay and Etsy had previously backed the legislation.
“Passing the bipartisan INFORM Act would be a major victory for consumers, who deserve to know who they’re buying from when they visit an online marketplace,” Kovacevich said in a statement. “This legislation has been through years of hearings and markups and has earned the support of both parties as well as brick-and-mortar stores and online marketplaces.”
The bill “will achieve our shared goal of protecting consumers from bad actors while avoiding overly broad disclosure requirements that would harm our sellers’ privacy and restrict their ability to run their creative businesses,” according to Jeffrey Zubricki, head of Etsy’s Americas advocacy and public policy.
(Adapted from CNBC.com)