TikTok has announced its latest new features focusing on the wellbeing and safety of its younger users. They include what sounds like a big move: “In the coming weeks, every account belonging to a user below age 18 will automatically be set to a 60-minute daily screen time limit.”
If you’re the parent or carer of a teenager, don’t be too smug when delivering this news: extending that limit is simply a case of entering a passcode once the 60 minutes are up – although under-13s will need to get a parent or guardian to do it. TikTok will encourage teens who opt out of the hour-limit to set their own daily limit.
Alongside this, there are new additions to TikTok’s ‘Family Pairing’ feature that will help parents monitor their children’s TikTok use and mute their notifications after certain times.
All this comes against a backdrop where TikTok, like all social-media platforms, is under growing pressure from regulators to do more to protect children and teens – on issues ranging from safety and privacy to wellbeing.
Talking of pressure, though, that’s being amped up another notch in the US over a separate issue: TikTok’s perceived links to China, and national security concerns that are being expressed ever more volubly by some American politicians.
Yesterday, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a bill that would give President Biden the power to ban TikTok (and other apps owned by or with strong links to Chinese companies).
The vote on the Deterring America’s Technological Adversaries (DATA) Act was far from bipartisan though. It was passed by a vote of 24 to 16 with every Democrat on the committee voting against it.
This is not to say that Democrats are on Team TikTok in the national security debate. It’s fairer to say that their position is that they want the lead to be taken in any crackdown by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS). Politico has a good explanation of the differing views.
There is already opposition to the bill from external campaigners – the American Civil Liberties Union and Fight For The Future have both outlined their concerns about the proposed legislation.
TikTok has also hit back, claiming that “a US ban on TikTok is a ban on the export of American culture and values to the billion-plus people who use our service worldwide”, while describing the bill as a “rushed piece of legislation”.
Does yesterday’s vote mean that a US ban on TikTok is feasible, or even likely? That remains unclear. Any such legislation would need to be passed by the full House and Senate, and then signed by the president. The way The DATA Act’s House Committee approval was rammed through by Republicans doesn’t bode well for its chances of passing all three of those future hurdles.
Still, the pressure is mounting on TikTok, whose own lobbying efforts (including those teen safety changes) are coming up against a swell of US-China tensions that have little to do with the app itself. Something that was also the case in India, where TikTok’s ban in 2020 was sparked by a geopolitical fallout between China and India.
A similar ban in the US may not be imminent, but it is far from an impossibility. The music industry will certainly be mulling that prospect, and what it might mean for TikTok’s licensing strategy as well as the wider short-video space.
Thus far, rightsholders have talked publicly about their views that TikTok should be paying higher music royalties, but have been largely absent from the national-security policy debates around the app.
If the threat of a US ban grows, given the importance of TikTok in the music ecosystem, perhaps it’s time for that to change…
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