A movement to ban TikTok in the U.S. is growing over cybersecurity concerns.
Nearly 20 states — including Texas, Maryland and Utah — have banned the social media app from government-issued devices. The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill last week that would ban the platform from devices issued by federal agencies.
The video-sharing app, owned by the Chinese company ByteDance, soared to popularity since its debut in 2016. It now has more than 100 million users in the U.S. alone.
But state and federal authorities have sounded alarms over cybersecurity and the potential for espionage by China.
What is TikTok?
TikTok allows users to create and share short videos on just about any topic.
People have used the platform to poke fun of a Plano megachurch’s extravagant Christmas production, capture children’s joy seeing The Little Mermaid’s Black Ariel for the first time, encourage people to cook chicken drenched in NyQuil and show off beautiful butter boards.
Users sing, dance, chat about hobbies, play practical jokes. It’s a creative free-for-all.
Users navigate the app like Facebook and Instagram, by scrolling up and down through a feed. And just like those sites, you comment, share and like videos.
So what’s the big deal?
Concerns over cybersecurity have prompted attempts to crack down on the platform.
FBI Director Christopher Wray recently said the app is controlled by “a government that doesn’t share our values.” Wray said that China could use the app to both collect sensitive data on Americans and spread propaganda through its recommendation algorithm. TikTok is already banned on U.S. military devices.
In an order issued in early December, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the state has the responsibility and opportunity to protect itself.
“The threat of the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate the United States continues to grow on multiple fronts,” Abbott wrote to the heads of state agencies.
At issue is a law in China that requires companies like ByteDance to comply with requests from the government to hand over their data.
What does TikTok say?
TikTok spokesman Jamal Brown said the concerns driving bans “are largely fueled by misinformation about our company.”
“We are always happy to meet with state policymakers to discuss our privacy and security practices,” Brown said. “We are disappointed that the many state agencies, offices, and universities that have been using TikTok to build communities and connect with constituents will no longer have access to our platform.”
TikTok Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas has said the company protects all American users’ data and that Chinese government officials have no access to it.
This month, TikTok announced it will soon start explaining to users why it is recommending a particular video to them. A new feature, called “For You” is part of the company’s plan to be more transparent about its algorithm.
This all sounds familiar, right?
Yes. Former President Donald Trump attempted to block new U.S. users from downloading WeChat and TikTok in 2020, which would have effectively blocked the use of these apps in the United States, but lost a series of court battles.
In June 2021, President Joe Biden withdrew the Trump executive order that sought to ban new TikTok downloads. Biden also ordered a Commerce Department review of security concerns posed by TikTok, WeChat and others.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.