Congress bans TikTok on public devices
Last week, Congress passed a bipartisan spending bill that includes bans on TikTok from government entities as concerns grow over the potential misuse and abuse of user data, CNBC says. Important exceptions to the law include law enforcement use and for national security and research purposes. The key issue is that TikTok is owned by China-based ByteDance. Although US user data is not physically stored in China, there are still concerns that the data could be accessed by the Chinese government.
Following the passage of the bill, a TikTok spokesperson issued the following statement:
“We are disappointed that Congress has moved to ban TikTok on government entities — a political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests — instead of encouraging the administration to conclude its national security review. The deal under review by CFIUS will meaningfully address any security concerns that have been raised at both the federal and state levels.These plans have been developed under the supervision of the nation’s top national security agencies—plans that we are well on their way to implementing—to further secure our platform in the United States, and we will continue to brief lawmakers on them,” the spokesperson said.
This news comes about six months after the Federal Communications Commission asked Apple and Google to ban TikTok from their respective app stores. Commissioner Brendan Carr said: “TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data collection combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to this sensitive data.”
States banning TikTok on state-owned devices
The federal government is following the lead of more than a dozen states that have also banned TikTok from state-owned entities, NPR reports. The states include the following:
- Louisiana – partial ban
- New Hampshire
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia – partial ban
According to NPR, the governors who have called for the ban are responding to concerns voiced by FBI Director Christopher Wray’s testimony to Congress in November.
“The FBI director recently warned that the Chinese government may control TikTok’s content algorithm, allowing it to conduct influence operations in the United States,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote in a Dec. 7, 2022, letter to the lieutenant governor and statehouse. speaker who announced the state’s ban.
Governor Abbott also wrote: “While TikTok has claimed it stores US data in the US, the company admitted in a letter to Congress that China-based employees may have access to US data. It has also been reported that ByteDance planned to use TikTok location information to monitor individual US citizens.”
During Wray’s testimony, he said the FBI had national concerns, particularly the possibility that the Chinese government could use TikTok to “control data collection on millions of users.”
State of Indiana sues TikTok
In early December, the Indiana attorney general sued TikTok, alleging that the video-based social platform exposes minors to inappropriate content and makes user data available to the Chinese government. One of two lawsuits against TikTok alleges that China could potentially use the vast amount of US user data in the name of its own national security or “to spy on, extort and coerce” users, reports The Washington Post.
“The TikTok app is a malicious and menacing threat unleashed on unsuspecting Indiana consumers by a Chinese company that knows full well the harm it inflicts on users,” said Attorney General Rokita. “With this pair of lawsuits, we hope to force TikTok to stop its false, misleading and deceptive practices, which violate Indiana law,” Attorney General Todd Rokita said in a Dec. 7 statement.
“In several ways, TikTok represents a clear and present danger to Hoosiers hiding in plain sight in their own pockets,” Rokita said. “At the very least, the company owes consumers the truth about age-appropriate content and the uncertainty of the data it collects on users. We hope these lawsuits force TikTok to come clean and change its ways.”
TikTok fires four employees for accessing journalist data
CNN Business reports that four TikTok employees gained access to user data from two journalists, one at the Financial Times and one at Buzzfeed, to identify possible leaks to the press. Two employees based in the US and two in China have been fired as a result.
“The individuals involved abused their authority to access TikTok user data,” TikTok CEO ShouChew said in his email to employees, according to an excerpt of the email reviewed by CNN. “This is unacceptable.”
TikTok has been in the hot seat since former President Donald Trump was in office for potential misuse and abuse of US consumer data. The federal and some state governments are still concerned about taking action by “banning” TikTok on public entities. However, this is like a law without teeth. The government cannot control what apps consumers download to their phones or how they use it. They also cannot control how the app maker uses consumer data, although there are laws in place to protect consumers around terms and conditions of use.
How does this affect TikTok subscriptions? Not much – yet. TikTok offers a LIVE subscription product, a monthly subscription that gives subscribers access to their favorite TikTok creators. Subscribers can also unlock special perks, badges, custom emotes, subscriber-only chat and more. At this time, state and federal bans on TikTok on public devices will not affect the TikTok LIVE subscriptions or their subscribers. However, if concern about TikTok continues to grow, some creators may choose to move to other platforms (e.g. Facebook and Instagram Reels) to avoid potential problems.
The concern about appropriate data usage may also be a concern for subscription brands using TikTok for advertising purposes. We don’t think these brands will lose their target audiences, because most government employees also have personal devices that they can download and watch TikTok on, but this should be on their corporate release lists.