The White House made a statement on Feb. 27 announcing that federal employees had 30 days to delete TikTok from their government-issued phones. Most of the U.S. government, from Congress to the U.S. Armed Forces, has already banned the app due to privacy concerns according to a White House statement.
Congress passed the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act,” which prevents the usage of TikTok for national security, law enforcement, and research purposes. This was done under the Biden/Harris Administration back in December.
According to an article written by ABC News, ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, would give user data (i. e. browsing history and location) to the Chinese government or push propaganda and misinformation. Denmark and Canada have also blocked TikTok from government-issued phones, and the executive branch of the European Union has temporarily banned the app from employee phones.
The statement made on Feb. 27 is similar in preventing usage of TikTok on government devices. House Republicans gave President Joe Biden the power to ban TikTok nationwide on Feb. 28.
Civil liberties organizations have pushed back against the bill, with a letter sent from the American Civil Liberties Union to Rep. Mike McCaul and Rep. Gregory
Meeks arguing that a nationwide ban on the app would be unconstitutional and would “likely result in banning many other businesses and applications as well.” As of now, there is no nationwide ban of TikTok in place.
Efforts to ban the app began in 2020 when former President Donald J. Trump and his administration tried to ban dealings with the owner of TikTok, force it to sell off its U.S. assets, and remove it from app stores for security reasons. The courts blocked this effort, but Biden has raised the issue of whether or not the app should be banned in the U.S. once again.
Brooke Oberwetter, a spokesperson from TikTok, made a statement in the White House announcement on Feb. 27.
“The ban of TikTok on federal devices passed in December without any deliberation, and unfortunately that approach has served as a blueprint for other world governments,” Oberwetter said. “These bans are little more than political theater.”
Dr. Brian Bovee, associate professor of computer information technology, gave two reasons why the software could be dangerous surveillance and manipulation.
“Surveillance refers to American user data being accessed by TikTok and, possibly, the Chinese government,” Bovee said. “Manipulation refers to manipulating, via algorithms, pro-Chinese sentiments and minimizing or eliminating pro-American sentiment.”
Bovee addressed whether people with TikTok should be worried about their safety.
“There is room for legitimate concern,” Bovee said. “Felix Krause has identified ways that the app can track all user keystrokes, including credit card data or other personal information.”
In Krause’s tweet posted on Aug. 18, he explained that when you open the app it injects code into the phone to observe keyboard input. This connects to Bovee’s statement about how there should be a concern with users’ safety.
As more information is released about TikTok, is a nationwide ban on the horizon?
“This is part of a broader conversation that needs to happen in order to, minimally, better hold tech companies accountable for producing technology that is both secure and humane,” Bovee said.
“We know, for example, that social media such as TikTok is harmful to young people. Humanetech.com is a great resource for those who are interested in learning more about how to join a movement to help mitigate and, hopefully, solve some of these types of problems.”
If the proposal for a nationwide ban is passed, it would give the government the ability to ban any software applications that threaten national security.
“Anyone with TikTok downloaded on their device has given the CCP a backdoor to all their personal information,” said Republican Rep. Mike McCaul in a statement on Feb. 27. “It’s a spy balloon into your phone.”
Camdyn Taylor, freshman elementary education major, does not think TikTok should be banned despite security concerns as she believes it benefits many people who use the platform.
“I think that it is not really a good idea to ban TikTok because this is content that allows people to connect with one another,” Taylor said. “People enjoy TikTok and it would be a shame for it to be taken away.”
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew testified on Mar. 23 before Congress where the House Energy and Commerce Committee asked him about the company’s privacy and data security practices along with the
relationship that the app has with the Chinese government. Chew was questioned for over five hours by Congress. Chew said that the company was “building what amounts to a firewall to seal off protected U.S. user data from unauthorized foreign access.”
“I think a lot of risks that are pointed out are hypothetical and theoretical risks,” Chew said. “I have not seen any evidence.”
TikTok has spent $1.5 billion on data security efforts called “Project Texas” with nearly 1,500 employees contacted to OracleCorp to store user data from the U.S.
“The bottom line is this: American data stored on American soil, by an American company, overseen by American personnel,” Chew said.