TikTok ban: US says it reserves right to protect its interest

Saturday April 27 2024

A decision by Washington to ban the Chinese-owned TikTok is about national security. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


A decision by Washington to ban the Chinese-owned TikTok, unless it is sold within a year, is about national security, US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in Nairobi on Thursday.

“The USA trades a lot with China and we want to continue to do business,” said Ms Raimondo. “But for technology like Artificial Intelligence and the connective apps, we have to be very careful. It’s about national security and protecting Americans. We trade where we can but we have to protect our people.”

President Biden on Wednesday signed the bill into a law that would ban TikTok in the US unless it is sold within a year.

Read: Explainer: Why the US government is trying to ban TikTok

The parent company, ByteDance, has denied claims it shares user data with Beijing for surveillance.

The US decision comes at a time when Kenya has joined a growing list of nations seeking to regulate TikTok to combat false information, fraud, and the distribution of sexual content.


Recently, Kenya’s ICT Principal Secretary John Tanui told a parliamentary committee that TikTok will be required to publish quarterly compliance reports as part of the plan to address the negative effects linked to TikTok, instead of banning it from the country.

The government, under pressure to rein in TikTok, says that the social media platform will now be required to show content taken down and the reasons.

“To necessitate easy community reporting TikTok is required to share quarterly compliance reports with the Ministry clearly showing content taken down and reasons for the same,” said Tanui.

The US secretary was in Nairobi to lobby for an increase in trade and investment portfolio, especially in the ICT sector, with an eye on capturing the larger East African Community market, ahead of President William Ruto’s state visit to Washington DC next month.

The two countries are negotiating a free trade agreement and have agreed to harness artificial intelligence and facilitate digital data flows, an area that China has a headway.

“We discussed the digital transformation happening in Kenya (with ICT CS Eliud Owalo), the Silicon Savannah and how the US could support that digital transformation in Kenya,” Ms Raimondo told The EastAfrican on the sidelines of the AmCham business summit.

“I brought with me 14 companies, many of them technological companies interested in investing in Kenya.”

Secretary Raimondo commended Kenya as a leader on the continent on digital transformation and Kenya’s strides to achieve their green Silicon Savannah aspirations as a growing hub for technology and clean energy.

She said the US was also keen to expand and train more women in Artificial intelligence to find business opportunities and align training standards in AI.

Read: Kenya pushes TikTok to do compliance reporting

Notably, the emergence of women-led communities such as Women in Data Science — Kenya, is catalysing a new wave of tech enthusiasts and female leaders, underscoring the inclusivity of Kenya’s tech revolution.

“I also announced some initiatives from the Commerce Department to bring women to the US to train them in digital skills.”

Kenya’s AI ecosystem, characterised by vibrant initiatives like Deep Learning Indaba-X Kenya and Data Science Africa, shows its commitment to AI alongside a beaming start-up community eagerly poised to utilise AI in providing business solutions.

In December 2022, at the US-Africa Leaders Summit and Business Forum, President Biden launched the Digital Transformation with Africa (DTA) initiative to expand digital access in Africa and increase commercial engagement between US and African companies.

The initiative is expected to support increased digital literacy and strengthen digital enabling environments across Africa.