Over 25 US States (and Counting) Move to Ban TikTok on Official Devices

Time may indeed be running out for the Chinese social media giant as lawmakers on both sides of the political fence, and of the Atlantic, take a harder line. This, amid mounting security concerns amplified by a media frenzy and a fair bit of political posturing. 

While the EU confronts TikTok on data safety, disinformation and DSA compliance, over 25 States in the US have moved independently to ban the platform on government-issued devices. Some states, as in the case of Auburn, have banned it on university campuses. Is the clock ticking for the world’s favorite app?

The World’s #1 App Under Fire

The short-video app is now far and away the most downloaded app in the world. But despite, and indeed in the face of its frightful popularity, lawmakers are making TikTok agenda item 1 in 2023, declaring it a threat to national security, or indeed, international security. 

For the 100 million average TikTok users in the US and the over 1 billion global users, the TikTok takedown might spell disaster. Thanks to the app (and about a gazillion takes and probably the same # of edits) their lives have gone from drab to fab, but who knows if they’ll be able to move their audience over to Insta in time?

Why the Pushback Against TikTok?

The wellbeing of people who make a living through TikTok is hardly the concern of US lawmakers. They’re more worried the app could allow the Chinese government to spy on Americans, or indeed, be co opted in a cyberattack on US infrastructure or citizens.

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

The fears are not totally unfounded. In the last days of 2022, ByteDance admitted that some of its employees accessed US citizens’ TikTok data as part of an investigation into Western journalists.

A Mutual Enemy

US senators on both sides of the fence have been calling for an investigation into TikTok since 2019. In 2020, President Trump stirred up quite the ‘covfefe’, threatening to ban the app entirely unless it sold off its American business (to him, no doubt). 

President Biden initially revoked Trump’s executive orders to ban TikTok, calling instead for a more level-headed national security review, but that’s been slow going as Biden courts Chinese officials. Things have started to pick up, as TikTok was banned from nearly 4 million government-issued phones. US armed forces have also been banned from using the app on military devices. 

The Domino Effect of Banning TikTok

Everyone wants to be on the right side of the TikTok debate. Just this past week, Wisconsin, North Carolina, New Jersey and Ohio joined at least 20 other states in restricting access to TikTok on state-issued cell phones and devices. 

At a time when the Chinese Communist Party is attempting to undermine America, it is completely unacceptable to continue to allow them to access sensitive data through TikTok’s ByteDance. We need to cut off the flow of sensitive data, protect our state’s cybersecurity, and act before it’s too late.

Kate Sanchez, a Murrieta Republican

But others, such as Sen. Tom Umberg, a Democrat from Garden Grove and chairperson of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have called for caution, “It is something we should do with a great deal of clarity and great deal of due diligence because when government starts to ban modes of communication that can be a problem.”

California, normally ahead of the pack on cybersecurity issues, has been conspicuously quiet. Regulating TikTok might mean having to regulate other social media companies, including those born and raised in California. Aside from setting a dangerous precedent, regulation can stifle innovation, which might explain the Silicon State’s hesitation. 

TikTok Jumps Through Hoops

Taking fire from all sides, TikTok continues to repeat it has never provided any US user data to the Chinese government, and never will, but Biden wants more than reassurance.

Accordingly, the team at TikTok have been hard at work on a security and data privacy plan that would meet Biden’s National Security Review’s evolving requirements and avoid losing what’s now their biggest market. 

“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,” Tiktok spokesperson Jamal Brown told AP. 

In response to this latest wave of bans, TikTok has proposed a $1.5B transparency plan which includes keeping US user data in the US, and setting up an independent, third-party monitor, to review TikTok’s algorithms, possibly headed by Oracle Corp.

TikTok has also announced its plans to update its EU Privacy Policy and is understood to be working on a final agreement with the Biden Administration to“fully safeguard user data and U.S. national security interests.” 

Banning TikTok Opens a Can of Worms

We’ll see if TikTok can make the necessary gestures to win back the West’s trust. A result of all this finger pointing, is that other social media companies are also feeling the heat.

Biden is right now calling on representatives across the political divide to hold these firms to account, to ask the same questions of them they’ve been asking of TikTok. At the end of the day, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. 

TikTok users may yet escape this latest wave of bans with their favorite app intact, but the increased scrutiny around social media sites can only be a good thing for all of us. 

What to Do If TikTok Gets Banned

If you can’t access TikTok on your campus network, a VPN can help. A VPN masks your activity so the network can’t see which sites you’re attempting to connect to. The same applies if your local government bans TikTok on personal devices and outside of government buildings. 

CyberGhost VPN allows you to change your IP address and pick a different location from countries. This lets you access or download the app from a different state or country where TikTok isn’t banned, like Canada or Mexico. 

Become a Ghostie today and decide for yourself which social media apps to use. 

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