Awkward dads and their eager kids may not be dancing together on TikTok any longer – at least not in the US
The prospect of a nationwide ban on TikTok has moved from a theoretical possibility to a serious political consideration, attracting growing support in Washington, D.C.
However, few details are known about how the policy would be implemented and what it would mean for the app’s more than 100 million US-based users.
China-owned TikTok is under intense scrutiny from government officials amid concerns that user data could fall into the hands of the Chinese government and the app could eventually be weaponized by China to spreading misinformation.
The Biden administration has hardened its stance on TikTok in recent weeks, approving a bipartisan bill earlier this month that would empower the federal government to ban apps like TikTok.
The administration’s stance was further hardened this week, when officials demanded that the Chinese owner of TikTok sell its stake in the app or risk being banned, the company and a U.S. official previously told ABC. News.
MORE: Biden admin tells Chinese TikTok owner to sell stakes or risk ban: Official
A ban on TikTok could take effect in a variety of ways, including its forcible removal from Apple and Google app stores or outright blocking of access by internet service providers, experts told ABC News.
As dedicated users would find ways around any government crackdowns, the app would suffer a dramatic decline in popularity and eventually disappear, they added.
“The United States doesn’t generally ban websites like this — that would be uncharted territory,” Timothy Edgar, a Brown University computer science professor and former national security official, told ABC News . “That would be a huge undertaking.”
TikTok did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
In response to bans on TikTok on certain government devices, TikTok previously told ABC News in a statement, “We appreciate that some governments have wisely chosen not to implement such bans due to a lack of evidence that there is such a need, but it’s disappointing to see other government agencies and institutions banning TikTok on employee devices without deliberation or evidence.”
“We share a common goal with governments concerned about user privacy, but these bans are misguided and do nothing to enhance privacy or security,” the company added.
MORE: TikTok faces bans in the US and other countries. Here’s why.
Here’s what to know about the different ways the government could implement a nationwide ban on TikTok, and what that would mean for TikTok users:
The removal of TikTok from app stores
An easy way to drastically reduce access to TikTok is to forcefully remove the app from major app stores, such as those run by Google and Apple.
Such a measure would exclude new users and limit existing users, experts said.
“It would prevent new users from downloading and installing the app,” Qi Liao, a computer science professor at Central Michigan University, told ABC News. “And the app wouldn’t be able to download updates, eventually becoming obsolete.”
The approach has won the support of at least one US senator. Last month, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO, sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai calling on their companies to remove TikTok from their respective app stores and expressed concerns about how TikTok handles US user data. .
Google and Apple did not respond to an earlier request for comment on the letter.
Savvy users could circumvent such a ban by using offline app installers that bypass app stores, Liao said.
Still, an App Store ban would immediately limit TikTok’s audience, he added.
“As soon as you ban TikTok on the App Store, it’s going to have an impact,” Liao said.
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A block of access to TikTok’s servers or IP address
A ban on the app could also take effect using a barrier that blocks access to TikTok’s web servers or its IP address, experts said.
In such a case, attempts to access the app would fail as users could not receive digital content from TikTok or reach its host.
“It would do massive damage to TikTok,” Edgar said.
The government could use a specially designed “sinkhole” or server that redirects web traffic when users attempt to access illicit websites, such as child pornography or pirated material, Edgar said.
“Users can go to a page that says, ‘TikTok has been banned by the US government and this page has been seized by the Department of Justice,'” Edgar said.
As with other approaches, users could escape the government-imposed barrier, experts said.
To access the app, users can use a virtual private network, or VPN, which impersonates a user connecting from an overseas location, circumventing the US-specific ban, a Liao said.
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“In China, it’s the other way around,” Liao said. “People are using a VPN to access blocked US services because the Chinese government has such censorship.”
Despite the readily available workaround, the effort required to connect from a VPN will deter many people from continuing to use TikTok, Edgar said.
“Once you ban it, mainstream users might not want to take those kinds of risks — maybe it’s not that important to them,” he said. “TikTok influencers will lose a lot of followers.”
Crackdown on internet service providers
A ban on TikTok could take the form of denial of access imposed by internet service providers, companies like Verizon and AT&T that provide internet access to individuals, homes, businesses and other institutions, have said experts.
Internet service providers could “totally block the TikTok network”, leaving all customers unable to access the app, Liao said.
A ban on TikTok imposed by India in 2020 forced internet service providers to deny customers the ability to use the app, Sarah Kreps, director of Cornell University’s Tech Policy Institute, told ABC News .
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“This is a case where in the United States it would require Verizon to basically block this app,” she said.
Liao, who noted that India’s approach also mandates the removal of TikTok from app stores, said a denial of access by internet service providers would expand the measures some companies are already taking to prevent use of specific websites, such as age-inappropriate content.
“They are already shaping a lot of traffic,” Liao said.
Customers could potentially circumvent a hurdle from internet service providers, or ISPs, by using a different SIM card, the chip implanted in a mobile device that identifies a customer, Liao said. Users could also forego a SIM card altogether, he added.
“Then you’ll completely bypass TikTok’s ISP blocking,” he said.
As with the other solutions, this approach would not completely eliminate access, but would reduce the user base, Kreps said.
“The hope with that would be to slow down the flywheel,” she said. “You won’t stop every user from using TikTok, but it would definitely make it a lot harder to use.”
‘Uncharted Territory’: How would a TikTok ban in the US work? originally appeared on abcnews.go.com