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The U.S. Senate has passed a bill requiring the Chinese owner of TikTok, ByteDance, to sell the app to a U.S.-approved buyer or risk a ban. President Biden has indicated that he will sign the bill to that effect.

The Senate passed the proposal, formally known by the resounding name Protecting Americans from Foreign Adversary Controlled Applications Act (PFACAA) by 79 votes to 18. Earlier, the House of Representatives approved the bill. It is part of a broader package of laws that allow defence spending on behalf of Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, among others.

The bill specifically targets applications controlled by foreign powers. ByteDance and TikTok are the first “targets” because of fears that the Chinese government could use them directly or indirectly to manipulate, spy on, and spread disinformation to Americans.

An escape hatch

PFACAA makes it illegal for an entity to distribute such apps in America. When President Biden signs the bill into law, TikTok may no longer be offered in U.S. app stores or hosted by U.S. service providers after 270 days (with a possible extension of another 90 days). There is a way out: ByteDance may hand off TikTok to a government-approved buyer.

The idea is that this will mitigate foreign influence. That remains to be seen; it would also mean a potential buyer must untangle TikTok’s entire infrastructure. The question is whether there is a company willing to wade into that quagmire. Incidentally, U.S.-based Oracle provides services to TikTok. If Biden signs the law today, which is his intention, ByteDance will have until early 2025 to sell TikTok.

Also read: Dutch government will ban TikTok on work phones of civil servants