The Austin Chronicle

TikTok Banned for State-issued Devices Over Espionage Threat

TikTok on the clock

By Leena Alali, December 23, 2022, News

What does watching a cooking video on your phone have to do with espionage for the Chinese Communist Party? Last week, Congress and Gov. Greg Abbott pointed to TikTok, the social media app that has become a hub for comedy videos and lip-syncing teens, as a threat from the Chinese government.

On Dec. 7, Abbott ordered all state agencies to ban the use of the app on state-­issued devices. He also ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Department of Information Resources to develop a "model plan" for all other state agencies on how to address the dangers of TikTok. (In accordance with the order, all UT-Austin employees received instructions to remove the app from their state-issued devices.)

Abbott wasn't alone in his concern – four states had bans in place before Texas did, and last week, the Senate passed a bill to ban federal employees from using TikTok on all government-issued devices. TikTok, owned by Chinese parent company ByteDance, has been operating in the U.S. since 2017, and was estimated to have 86.9 million U.S. users in 2021.

As a Chinese company, any data or intelligence being collected by the app can technically be accessed by the CCP. Earlier this month, FBI Director Chris Wray warned that the app's algorithm recommendations enable China to "manipulate content, and if they want to, to use it for influence operations," per AP News.

Chair of the Travis County Democratic Party Katie Naranjo said she doesn't see the matter of TikTok security as partisan – although when former Prez Donald Trump issued a ban of the app in 2020, some speculated that rising Gen Z political organizing on the app might have been a motivator. But in general, she said, Republicans seem ban-happy. "There's a partisan pattern of behavior where if Republicans don't understand something, they ban it," she said. "Let's ban the word gay, let's ban abortion. We don't understand it, we're gonna ban it: That's the Republican motto."

As of press time, the TikTok legislation has yet to hit President Joe Biden's desk but is under the spotlight from both parties. Friday, Politico reported that the administration is "at odds" over whether to force ByteDance to divest from its U.S. operations.

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