Biden approves banning TikTok from federal government phones

TikTok will be banned from most US government devices in a government spending bill Congress announced earlier Tuesday, the latest push by American lawmakers against the Chinese-owned social media app.

TikTok will be banned from most US government devices in a government spending bill Congress announced earlier Tuesday, the latest push by American lawmakers against the Chinese-owned social media app.

Michael Dwyer / AP

Having TikTok on a device issued by the federal government has been made illegal in a massive spending bill for the upcoming fiscal year that President Biden signed on Thursday. The government has up to 60 days to set guidelines for imposing the ban.

While applications belonging to China have not been allowed in many federal government tools – including on US House mobile device – measures in the newly enacted spending bill expands the ban. The ban is likely to hurt TikTok’s reputation at a time when the Biden administration is still trying to complete a national security review of the popular app.

TikTok is used by more than 100 million monthly active users in the US alone, and its ability to create instant viral hits has put it at the forefront of internet culture, although data security concerns have long dogged the app.

If you count yourself among its users and you wonder how this crackdown might affect you, here’s what you need to know:

Will this affect my use of TikTok?

Probably not — unless you’re a federal government employee who uses a work phone to browse TikTok. The White House, Pentagon, Department of Homeland Security and State Department have banned staff from having TikTok on government-issued devices, so this ban only extends the rule to all US government employees. More than a dozen countries have passed similar TikTok bans on state government-issued devices.

Why did the ban happen?

Republicans and Democrats alike TikTok has been trying for a long time, as it is owned by the Beijing-based technology giant ByteDance. Lawmakers worry about the Chinese Communist Party using the app to spy on Americans, or using the app’s algorithms to amplify a pro-China narrative.

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While the company denies it will be used for nefarious purposes, national security experts say China-based businesses would normally have to give unfettered access to authoritarian regimes if information is ever sought.

Former President Donald Trump tried – and failed – to ban TikTok outright. And federal lawmakers have proposed a more punitive anti-TikTok bill that isn’t gaining traction.

So the restrictions on the federal government apparatus are additional restrictions: Most of the drastic measures do not go forward, because the efforts do not have the political will, or the courts to intervene to stop them.

“I think some concern about TikTok is necessary,” said Julian McAuley, a professor of computer science at the University of California San Diego, who said that the main difference between TikTok and other social media apps is that TikTok is more user-driven. -special advice.

“Of course this means that TikTok could be more open to feeds being manipulated to achieve nefarious goals,” McAuley said.

What is the evidence that TikTok is a national security threat?

Not much solid evidence. Cases against TikTok generally fall into the “theoretically possible this could happen” category. But because TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, the hypothetical risk of millions of Americans potentially being the target of espionage at the hands of a hostile government has Washington worried. FBI Director Chris Wray has said TikTok is a national security threat, saying the app can “manipulate content, and if they want, use it for influence operations.”

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Getting down to how safe TikTok is for US users is something privacy scholars aren’t quickly understanding.

“While ByteDance claims that it maintains its operations in the United States separately, there is no easy way to determine the extent to which that claim is true,” said Sameer Patil, a professor at the University of Utah who studies online user privacy.

A report in BuzzFeed found that TikTok owner ByteDance once used an app not owned by the company to push content sympathetic to the Chinese government. That app, which is separate from TikTok, no longer exists. Still, some observers wonder: If ByteDance is willing to do that for one of its previous services, why isn’t it trying to do the same on TikTok?

That’s a question the company rejects. Earlier this year, TikTok announced an initiative that would route “100% of US user traffic” to servers controlled by American technology company Oracle. TikTok said it is working to remove US users’ personal data from its own servers and transfer everything to servers hosted in the US, with backup storage in Singapore.

McAuley said that TikTok, like all major social media companies, spends a large amount of personal data of the people who use the application, although he asked what TikTok can do with what it knows: user age, contact information, viewing habits, search history, location.

“While social media companies certainly harvest all kinds of data about users, I think it’s often overstated how much they ‘know’ about users on an individual level,” he said.

Patil said if TikTok users are worried about their privacy, he recommends limiting posts to friends only and removing location data from videos, which can be done in the app’s settings.

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What are the chances of TikTok becoming more banned in the US?

This is still possible, but it does not appear close.

The Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a powerful interagency federal panel that reviews foreign investment in the US, began investigating TikTok during the Trump administration and the investigation is still ongoing.

The organizers can set bigger restrictions on TikTok, or can force the app sold to an American company, something the Chinese government will likely forcefully oppose, as it did when such a sale was floated during the Trump year.

Another resolution is that the committee is satisfied with TikTok’s steps to ensure there is a firewall between the data of US users and ByteDance employees in Beijing and the Chinese government.

CFIUS deliberations are notoriously secretive and happen behind closed doors. It’s not clear when the committee might finish its investigation, nor does it know which direction it’s leaning.

How is TikTok responding to the latest action?

Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokeswoman, said the company was disappointed that Congress had moved to ban TikTok on government devices, calling the move “a political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests.”

TikTok, Oberwetter said, has faith in the CFIUS process, which is centered around making sure the video app isn’t manipulated by Chinese government influence.

“The agreement under review by CFIUS will meaningfully address security concerns that have been raised at the federal and state levels,” Oberwetter said. “This plan has been developed under the supervision of the highest national security agency of our country – a plan that we are working on implementing – to further secure our platforms in the United States, and we will continue to brief members of parliament about it.”

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