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TikTok confirms having proposed a “kill switch” to the US government

TikTok confirms having proposed a “kill switch” to the US government

Image source, Getty Images

  • Author, Imran Rahman Jones
  • Role, Technology journalist

TikTok says it offered the U.S. government the power to shut down the platform in an attempt to address lawmakers’ data protection and national security concerns.

The company disclosed its “kill switch” offer, which it made in 2022, as it began its legal fight against legislation that would ban the app in America unless Chinese parent company ByteDance sold it .

The law was introduced due to concerns that TikTok could share US user data with the Chinese government – ​​something ByteDance has consistently denied.

TikTok and ByteDance are urging courts to strike down the legislation.

“This law constitutes a radical departure from this country’s tradition of championing an open Internet and sets a dangerous precedent for political branches to target a disfavored speech platform and force it to sell or shut down,” they said. supported in their legal argument.

They also claimed that the US government had refused to engage in serious negotiations on a settlement after 2022, and pointed to the “kill switch” offer as proof of the lengths they were willing to go.

TikTok claims the mechanism would have given the government “explicit authority to suspend the platform in the United States at the sole discretion of the U.S. government” if it had not followed certain rules.

A draft “National Security Agreement,” proposed by TikTok in August 2022, would have required the company to following rules such as properly funding its data protection units and ensuring that ByteDance does not have access to US user data.

The “kill switch” could have been triggered by the government if it broke this agreement, it is claimed.

In a letter – first reported by the Washington Post – addressed to the US Department of Justice, TikTok’s lawyer says the government “terminated all substantive negotiations” after the new rules were proposed.

The letter, dated April 1, 2024, says the U.S. government has ignored requests to meet for further negotiations.

It also alleges that the government failed to respond to TikTok’s invitation to “visit and inspect its dedicated transparency center in Maryland.”

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia will hold oral arguments in September on lawsuits filed by TikTok and ByteDance, as well as TikTok users.

Legislation signed in April by President Joe Biden gives ByteDance until January next year to divest TikTok’s U.S. assets or face a ban.

This decision arose from fears that data belonging to the platform’s 170 million American users could be transmitted to the Chinese government.

TikTok denies sharing foreign user data with China and has called the legislation an “unconstitutional ban” and an affront to the United States’ right to free speech.

It insists that US data does not leave the country and is overseen by US company Oracle, in a deal called Project Texas.

In May, a U.S. government official told the Washington Post that “the solution proposed by the parties at the time would be insufficient to address the serious national security risks.”

They added: “While we have continually discussed our concerns and potential solutions with the company, it has become clear that divestment of its foreign ownership was and remains necessary.”