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Here's what Apple will say if a US TikTok ban becomes law

Peter Kafka   

Here's what Apple will say if a US TikTok ban becomes law
  • Apple just removed WhatsApp, Signal, and other messaging apps from its Chinese app store.
  • Big Tech is used to these compromises in order to do business in various parts of the world.

"We are obligated to follow the laws in the countries where we operate, even when we disagree."

Remember that quote.

It's from an unidentified Apple comms person, to The Wall Street Journal, explaining why Apple just took four messaging/social media apps — WhatsApp, Threads, Signal, and Telegram — out of its Chinese app store.

If you follow Apple and its complicated, codependent relationship with China, you have definitely heard it, or versions of it before — like when Chinese authorities forced Apple to remove an app used by Hong Kong protesters in 2019.

You've also heard versions of it over the last few years in other countries, as big US tech companies make concessions to local rulers that would never fly in the US. Like when Netflix removed an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj's newsy show to satisfy Saudia Arabia, or when Facebook removed posts that Turkey's government didn't like.

But now we are getting closer to hearing Apple and other tech companies use the same words to describe their actions in America.

A proposed anti-TikTok law, which has already been approved by the House, has renewed energy (TLDR: The bill may now be packaged along with measures approving aid for Ukraine and Israel, which increases the chances the Senate may pass it; Joe Biden has already said he'd sign the bill if it gets to its desk.)

If the TikTok bill does become law, it won't make TikTok go away overnight in the US.

In theory, TikTok could continue to operate in the US if ByteDance, its Chinese owner, sells it to someone else — though the Chinese government really, really doesn't want that to happen. More practically, the bill would immediately head to the US court system, where it could get tied up for a very long time.

But if the law jumps enough hurdles to become enforceable, Apple would have to remove TikTok from its US app store, as would Google.

That would be an unprecedented move in this country. But Apple has a quote ready in case it needs it.

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