How would a TikTok ban work in the US?

Awkward parents and their anxious children may not be dancing together on TikTok for much longer, at least not in the US.

The prospect of a national ban on TikTok moved from a theoretical possibility to a serious political consideration, drawing growing support in Washington, DC.

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 users.

Chinese-owned TikTok has faced increasing scrutiny from government officials over fears that user data could fall into the possession of the Chinese government and ultimately China could use the app as weapon to spread misinformation.

PHOTO: The TikTok logo is displayed on a sign outside the offices of social media app company TikTok in Culver City, Calif., on March 16, 2023. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

The Biden administration has hardened its stance toward TikTok in recent weeks, backing a bipartisan bill earlier this month that would empower the federal government to ban apps like TikTok.

The administration’s stance hardened further this week, when officials demanded that TikTok’s Chinese owner sell its stake in the app or risk being banned, the company and a US official previously told ABC News.

MORE: Biden admin demands Chinese TikTok owner sell stakes or risk being banned: Official

A ban on TikTok could take effect in a number of ways, including its forced removal from the Apple and Google app stores or a complete blocking of access by internet service providers, experts told ABC News.

While dedicated users would find ways around any government crackdown, the app would suffer a dramatic decline in popularity and eventually disappear, they added.

“The United States doesn’t usually ban websites like this; it would be very unfamiliar territory,” Timothy Edgar, a professor of computer science at Brown University and a former national security official, told ABC News. “It would be a huge undertaking.”

TikTok did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

In response to TikTok’s bans on some 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 is disappointing. “. to see that other government agencies and institutions are banning TikTok on employee devices without deliberation or evidence.”

“We share a common goal with governments that are concerned about user privacy, but these bans are misguided and do nothing to improve privacy or security,” the company added.

MORE: TikTok faces bans in the US and other countries. This is why.

Here’s what you should know about the different ways the government could implement a nationwide TikTok ban, and what it would mean for TikTok users:

The removal of TikTok from the app stores

An easy way to significantly restrict access to TikTok is to forcefully remove the app from major app stores, such as those maintained by Google and Apple.

Such a move would ban new users and limit existing ones, experts said.

“It would prevent new users from downloading and installing the app,” Qi Liao, a professor of computer science at Central Michigan University, told ABC News. “And the app wouldn’t be able to download updates, and would eventually become outdated.”

The approach has won the support of at least one US senator. Last month, Senator Michael Bennet, D-CO, sent a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking their companies to remove TikTok from their respective app stores, citing concerns about how TikTok handles US user data. .

Google and Apple did not respond to a previous request for comment on the letter.

Savvy users could circumvent that ban by using offline app installation that bypasses app stores, Liao said.

Still, banning an app store would immediately limit TikTok’s audience, he added.

“As soon as I ban TikTok from the app store, it will have an impact,” Liao said.

PHOTO: Senator Mark Warner speaks during a press conference to unveil legislation that would allow the Biden administration to 'ban or ban' foreign technology products like Chinese-owned video app TikTok during a press conference, March 7, 2023. (Bonnie Cash/Reuters)

PHOTO: Senator Mark Warner speaks during a press conference to unveil legislation that would allow the Biden administration to ‘ban or ban’ foreign technology products like Chinese-owned video app TikTok during a press conference, March 7, 2023. (Bonnie Cash/Reuters)

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A block of access to TikTok servers or IP address

The ban on the app could also take effect through 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 because users would not be able to receive digital content from TikTok or access its web server.

“It would do enormous damage to TikTok,” Edgar said.

The government could use a “sink hole,” or a specially designed server that redirects web traffic when users try to access illicit websites, such as child pornography or pirated material, Edgar said.

“Users can go to a page that says, ‘TikTok was banned by the US government and this page was seized by the Department of Justice,'” Edgar said.

As with other approaches, users could bypass the government-imposed barrier, experts said.

To access the app, users can use a virtual private network, or VPN, which allows them to impersonate a user logging in from a foreign location, thereby circumventing the US-specific ban, Liao said.

MORE: TikTok imposes a default time limit for young users

“In China, it’s the other way around,” Liao said. “People use a VPN to access American services that are blocked because the Chinese government has that censorship.”

Despite the available solution, the effort required to log in from a VPN will discourage many people from continuing to use TikTok, Edgar said.

“Once you’ve banned it, core users may not want to take those kinds of risks; it may not be that important to them,” he said. “TikTok influencers will lose a huge number of followers.”

A crackdown by Internet service providers

A TikTok ban can take the form of a denial of access imposed by internet service providers, companies like Verizon and AT&T that provide internet access for individuals, homes, businesses and other institutions, experts said.

Internet service providers could “totally block the TikTok network,” leaving all customers unable to access the app, Liao said.

An India-imposed 2020 ban on TikTok required 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.

MORE: Deputy Attorney General Warns Against Using TikTok, Citing Data Privacy

“This is a case where in the US you would have to have Verizon essentially block this app,” he said.

Noting that India’s approach also called for the removal of TikTok from app stores, Liao said a denial of access by Internet service providers would expand measures some companies already take to prevent the use of sites. specific websites, such as age-inappropriate content.

“They are already shaping the traffic,” Liao said.

Customers could bypass a barrier 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, she added.

“Then it will completely bypass TikTok’s ISP blocking,” he said.

As with the other solutions, this approach wouldn’t eliminate access entirely, but it would reduce the user base, Kreps said.

“The hope with that would be to slow down the flywheel,” he said. “It’s not going to stop all users from using TikTok, but it would certainly make it much more difficult to use.”

‘Uncharted territory’: How would a US TikTok ban work? originally appeared on

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