Lawmakers enact TikTok bans on government devices

Carson Bonner, Campus Carrier news editor

Since its inception, the entertainment and creation app TikTok has experienced a number of criticisms and controversies. Whether it be controversy within the creator community or in the app itself, it is no stranger to scrutiny. However, such scrutiny has become more action-based as states continue restricting the app’s usage on government-issued devices. 

            Since 2020, states such as Florida, Nebraska, South Dakota and South Carolina have banned the usage of TikTok on their government-issued devices, but this had been the extent of such restrictions until December 2022, when Texas governor Greg Abbot ordered public universities to ban its usage on their Wifi networks. Texas A&M and University of Texas are two of the larger universities among these. The concern for usage of TikTok is the location of data storage, which is hosted by the Chinese company ByteDance. State and federal governments have concerns that user information will be prone to Chinese hacking and espionage operations, according to an article by Business Insider.

            “[Success] depends on [the universities’] goals,” Berry Chief Technology Officer Penny Evans-Plants said. “If it’s security of data on their devices, then potentially [they will be successful] assuming there is a threat, which is unknown at this point.”

            While some are of the opinion that the Chinese will not mine any user information, others are taking the stance that even if this is true, taking precautions to prevent the worse case scenario is the best approach.

            “Even if the Chinese aren’t looking to do nefarious things with the data collected, restricting the use of TikTok will at least minimize the amount of data collected in the first place,” freshman and Texas native Ian Hughes said. “Keeping the information safe in authorized devices is the main goal and I think this will help to achieve that goal.”

            TikTok is one of the highest charting app in terms of popularity in the US, and this has not changed since numerous bans have been put in place. If anything, students are just finding ways around it, through usage of virtual private networks (VPN) and cellular data usage rather than wifi. Thus far, students have been doing what they can to ignore the ban and warnings. 

            “I think the measures will help keep the private information of the colleges, faculty and students at less risk of harm,” Hughes said. “I think the institutions are simply trying to protect the information of their students and faculty from unwanted prying eyes and it’s probably within their right to do so.”

            Some other students feel that the ban is impractical, as there is no clear proof that any threat is being made against users’ data or government information through TikTok.

            “The situation is ridiculous,” senior, Texas native, and Berry Young Democrats officer Carly Stuart said. “This will not be an effective security measure. There are other social media apps such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. How will just banning TikTok and not other social media improve security? I would leave Berry if they banned TikTok. It is imposing on private items and social media.”

            A class action lawsuit is being brought against the app as well as Instagram, Facebook and other social media sites in California. According to an article on Reuters, more than 80 cases have been presented claiming that these apps are designed to hook young users and keep them addicted to their technology.

            Several youth advocates made statements to lawmakers in order to support a bill that would allow lawsuits if a company was aware or should have been aware that its product would addict minors. Among these advocates was Larissa May, who said she herself was addicted to TikTok, spending about 14 hours a day on the app.

            “I was addicted to the place that was killing me, that was reminding me of who I would never become, what I would never look,” May said in a statement. “There needs to be some accountability. The more that we suffer, the more money that they make.”

            Currently, the state of Georgia has restrictions of TikTok on government devices, but as of now there is no restriction of TikTok on Berry’s Wifi. According to Evans-Plants, Berry is taking a judicious approach and evaluating issues with TikTok as they arise.

            “Our preference at this point is to increase education and awareness about the potential dangers and some best practices around the use of the app,” Evans-Plants said. “For instance, do not use TikTok on any device which has sensitive data. Add information to our cyber security training modules specifically about social media apps.”

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