US government devices are no longer allowed to play TikTok due to “security concerns”

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Because of its Chinese origins, the popular social network TikTok has long been the target of US government spying allegations. While TikTok was never actually banned in the United States, the government isn’t thrilled with the app’s existence. The United States House of Representatives has now ruled that TikTok cannot be installed on government devices.

Chief Administrative Officer Catherine L. Szpindor issued the ban via email.

TikTok was banned, according to the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of the House. Any government devices with the app installed need to have it removed right away. Regular users are unaffected by the ban, but it reopens the debate over whether or not TikTok should be entirely banned from the United States. The ban on TikTok from the US was first announced by former US President Donald Trump in 2020, but it was never implemented. The Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, recommended that Apple and Google both remove TikTok from their app stores earlier this year. TikTok is a “sophisticated surveillance tool” for the Chinese government, according to a letter from the regulator.

As 19 states at least partially blocked the app from state-managed devices last week, this is not the first time the US state government has taken action to outlaw TikTok from government devices. The app was banned due to worries that the Chinese government might use it to track Americans and censor their access to information.

The app will be banned on devices under federal management once President Joe Biden signs the $1.66 trillion omnibus spending bill into law, which was passed last week and will fund the federal government through to September 30, 2023.

Why are members required to uninstall the app?

According to NBC News, the app must be removed from all government-issued mobile devices by December 27 for members and staff of the House. Additionally, they are not permitted to download TikTok on any mobile device provided by the House moving forward.

According to a memo obtained by NBC News, the Office of Cybersecurity deemed the well-known video platform to be “high risk” due to a number of potential security concerns.

Because parent company ByteDance might give the Chinese government access to information about Americans collected through the app, some US officials worry TikTok poses a threat to national security. They are concerned that the information could be used against Americans. Theoretically, China could use the information to create profiles of specific users, spying on them, track their online behavior, and directly target them. Another concern is that the data may be used collectively to attack the US, for example, by creating disinformation campaigns that may be used to topple the US government

And it’s possible that other phones besides House ones have deleted TikTok. Agencies within the Executive Branch are required by the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2023 to remove TikTok and any other apps created by the Chinese tech company ByteDance Limited from devices.

Is the threat actually there?

Most likely not. A 2020 New York Times article stated that the CIA came to the conclusion that Chinese intelligence agencies might be able to intercept TikTok data, but that there was no proof of this. The data could, however, be manipulated by any third party to produce misinformation campaigns, as we’ve seen with other platforms, such as on Facebook during the 2016 and 2020 election cycles. This is true for all social media companies that gather information about what users like, what they view, and how they consume media.

Since companies operating within China may be required by law to share information with the communist government, national security agencies and lawmakers have long issued warnings about the potential risk of allowing technology companies with ties to China to operate in the US. The use of communication equipment produced by Chinese industry giants Huawei and ZTE has already been outlawed by the US government. Amid worries that Beijing could use them to spy on US citizens or engage in cyberwarfare against the country, it has also prohibited Chinese telecom companies from operating in the US.

What information does TikTok gather?

TikTok gathers information about your location, IP address, search history, messages, and what you look at and for how long, just like Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms. In order to track your interactions with advertisers, it also gathers device identifiers. Your contacts from social networks and your phone may also be collected if you grant access. Additionally, it has access to every piece of user-generated content you post on the app, such as videos and images.

TikTok uses this data, just like other social media platforms, to deliver content that keeps you using the app. TikTok, like other social media companies, relies on displaying advertising to generate revenue, so it uses the data to tailor the ads, making them more effective.TikTok states in its privacy policy that it does not sell user information. To store and/or process your data, the company, however, “may transmit your data to its servers or data centers outside of the United States.” The business also acknowledges that the third parties with whom it exchanges data may reside outside of the US.

Will the employees of ByteDance still have access to data from US users?

ByteDance employees in China still have access to TikTok data, according to TikTok’s Chew, but only with “robust cybersecurity controls and authorization approval” overseen by a US-based security team. He added that ByteDance employees in China will continue to use TikTok even though the company is in the process of erasing US data from its servers in China as it moves them to Oracle’s cloud service.

The algorithm used to suggest videos to TikTok users will continue to be improved by these employees. And he added that all public videos and comments would continue to be accessible to ByteDance staff members under guidelines approved by the US government to ensure “interoperability” among its users and creators around the world.

What control over apps and app stores does the FCC have?

None, the agency lacks the authority to compel companies like Apple or Google to take any action, such as removing an app from their platforms, because neither the internet nor any businesses that use it are subject to its regulation.
In a recent interview, FCC Commissioner Carr acknowledged this reality.
In contrast to what we do with Huawei, ZTE, and China Mobile, where we have taken action, “we don’t necessarily have direct regulatory authority at the FCC,” he said. So it’s possible that they might instruct me to beat sand.

However, he added that the companies may come under pressure to take the app down from their platforms from other sources in Washington, such as lawmakers and a Commerce Department review.

This is just one component of a larger federal government initiative that is bringing TikTok, its data practices, and the threat to national security under much-deserved scrutiny, the official said.