eli5: How does a ban on TikToc actually work?


Disclaimer: I’m old and have never used TicTok. As I understand it most social media apps track everything about the users. I’m assuming the backlash on this one app is the data is in the hands of the Chinese.

But – again I’m old – if millions have it on their phone already, they can’t stop them from using it. Is that accurate? If so, when kids hear it will be banned, doesn’t it simply create a rush to download it and accomplish the opposite of what the lawmakers want?

In: 0

Just having TikTok installed on your phone does not make it work. TikTok requires an active internet connection to work. For this the app needs to connect to the TikTok computers. The government can block these connections to particular companies. So the government can block your phones from connecting to TikTok computer so the TikTok app will not work.

TikTok requires an internet connection to work, and that internet traffic is not that hard to monitor and block if the government actually set it’s mind to doing so. Having the app on the phone doesn’t do anything if it can’t establish a connection to the TikTok servers.

Further, a lot of TikTok’s infrastructure is physically located within the US, meaning it wouldn’t be hard to seize, and it’s not like it can be easily moved overseas.

I don’t know what law, if any, will actually be passed, but banning doesn’t necessarily mean you cannot access it. A ban on TikTok in the US could mean they can not do business, sell ads, maintain servers or collect data but you are still free to access the site. However, TikTok would have no reason to host videos or accounts from the US, which would essentially kill the app in the US.

It depends on the nature of the ban.

If a company or government department bans the app for employees via law or policy, it could mean they have technical measures in place (eg. mobile device management) which removes the app from/prevents it being installed on a work device, and/or have the power to use disciplinary action if not obeyed.

If the app is the subject of a widespread ban (state or country) for regular citizens enacted by the government, they are several options: delist the app from regional app stores (which may also allow the app to be removed automatically), prevent the app’s operator from doing business locally, prevent the app’s operator from hosting data or infrastructure locally, enforcing restrictions using DNS denylists, enforcing legal penalties for the app’s employees, etc.