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Saturday, January 28, 2023
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Nearly Half of All States Now Ban TikTok on Gov’t Devices

'It’s important for us to protect state information technology from foreign countries that have actively participated in cyberattacks against the United States...'

(Headline USA) Wisconsin and North Carolina have joined at least 22 other states in banning the popular social media app TikTok on state-owned devices, including Mississippi, Indiana, Louisiana and South Dakota.

Congress also recently banned TikTok from most U.S. government-issued devices over bipartisan concerns about security.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020. It has been targeted by critics who say the Chinese government could access user data, such as browsing history and location.

U.S. armed forces also have prohibited the app on military devices, as well as those of other GPS-based platforms that could track military movements using easily accessible or public data.

TikTok is consumed by two-thirds of American teens and has become the second-most popular domain in the world. But there’s long been bipartisan concern in Washington that Beijing would use legal and regulatory power to seize American user data or try to push pro-China narratives or misinformation.

There are also worries that the company is sending masses of user data to China, in breach of stringent European privacy rules.

Additionally, there’s been concern about TikTok’s content and whether it harms teenagers’ mental health.

Wisconsin’s Democrat Gov. Tony Evers cited concerns about privacy, safety and security, after consulting with the FBI and emergency management officials about the app.

Evers’s order applies to most state agencies, with some exceptions like criminal investigators who may be using the app to track certain people.

The University of Wisconsin System, which employs 40,000 faculty and staff, is also exempt. But a UW System spokesperson said despite the exemption, the university was conducting a review and moving toward placing restrictions on the app being used on devices in order to protect against serious cybersecurity risks.

Both Evers and fellow Democrat North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper also prohibited the use of WeChat, a Chinese instant messaging app, on state devices.

“It’s important for us to protect state information technology from foreign countries that have actively participated in cyberattacks against the United States,” Cooper said. “Protecting North Carolina from cyber threats is vital to ensuring the safety, security, privacy, and success of our state and its people.”

Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have warned that TikTok user data could be shared by owner ByteDance Ltd. with China’s authoritarian government. U.S. officials also worry that the Chinese government might use TikTok to push pro-China narratives or misinformation.

Evidence already exists that the platform has promoted deviant, anti-social and sometimes illegal behaviors for Americans, including violence, drug use and transgenderism, while the Chinese version emphasizes educational content.

There is also reason to believe that Chinese operatives both collected data and selectively pushed data to TikTok users in order to give Democrats an advantage in the 2020 and 2022 U.S. elections.

Notorious Democrat mega-donor George Soros reportedly even offered TikTok users $400 to created anti-Trump posts that pushed disinformation about the Jan. 6, 2021, protests at the U.S. Capitol.

Even among Democrats, fears were further stoked by news reports last year that a China-based team improperly accessed data of U.S. TikTok users, including two journalists, as part of a covert surveillance program to ferret out the source of leaks to the press.

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump and his administration sought to ban dealings with TikTok’s owner, force it to sell off its U.S. assets and remove it from app stores.

Courts blocked Trump’s efforts to ban TikTok, and President Joe Biden rescinded Trump’s orders after taking office but ordered an in-depth study of the issue. A planned sale of TikTok’s U.S. assets was shelved.

The Senate in December approved a version of the TikTok ban authored by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., a vocal critic of big tech companies.

Underscoring the trans-partisan nature of the threat, in the House, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., has co-sponsored legislation to prohibit TikTok from operating in the U.S. altogether, and the measure approved by Congress in December had the support of then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

For its part, TikTok claimed to be developing security and data privacy plans as part of an ongoing national security review by President Joe Biden’s administration.

“We’re disappointed that so many states are jumping on the political bandwagon to enact policies that will do nothing to advance cybersecurity in their states and are based on unfounded falsehoods about TikTok,” Jamal Brown, a spokesperson for TikTok, said in an emailed statement.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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