TikTok access from government devices is now restricted in over half of the United States. Indeed, only 13 states lack any restrictions on the use of TikTok, namely: Washington, Oregon, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. Every other state prohibits TikTok and/or any application created by TikTok’s owner/developer, ByteDance, on some level within state government.
Over the last 5 five years, Lawmakers became increasingly concerned about national security regarding TikTok. The app can track users’ locations, web browsing history, and personal information. Also, the Java Script embedded in TikTok allows companies to monitor all keystrokes and text inputs, which includes passwords and credit card information. Additionally, TikTok is owned by ByteDance, which is regulated (and arguably controlled) by the Chinese Communist Party and openly hostile toward United States’ interests.
In 2020, former President Donald Trump invoked his emergency economic powers to impose extensive sanctions against the short-video application. The executive order stated that any transaction between TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, and U.S. citizens would be outlawed for national security purposes. The ban faced a series of successful legal challenges and never came into action. In 2021, President Biden revoked the executive order, urging an “evidence-based approach” to see if China is threatening United States national security.
However, on December 29, 2022, President Joseph Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 into law (also referred to as the Omnibus Spending Bill and Public Law 117-328), prohibiting federal employees from using TikTok on government issued devices. The only exceptions are for “national security and research exceptions,” which include law enforcement activities, security researchers, and national security interests.
On December 13, 2022, Florida Senator Marco Rubio referred to TiKTok as “digital fentanyl,” with the introduction of the Averting the National Threat of Internet Surveillance, Oppressive Censorship and Influence, and Algorithmic Learning by the Chinese Communist Party Act (ANTI-SOCIAL CCP Act) (S. 5245) bill, which he introduced to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs. If passed, the Anti-Social CCP Act would block and prohibit all transactions from any social media company in, or under the influence of, China, Russia, and several other foreign countries of concern. Potential violators risk facing punishments issued by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which includes up to 20 years confinement and/or a $1,000,000.00 fine.
With security and privacy concerns insufficient to dissuade user interest, TikTok spreads inaccurate information intended to manipulate user thoughts and opinions, by promoting consumer products, memes, “news” stories, and opinions from unaccredited accounts. Any individual or group may create a sophisticated or established-seeming account, purporting to be a think tank, non-profit, news source, and/or investigatory body without credentials, licenses, or peer review.
Although publicly announced in March 2022, TikTok recently presented a detailed proposal, also known as “Project Texas,” to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States in an attempt to assuage security concerns. Therein, TikTok offers to disclose core segments of its technology to Oracle, a comprehensive, fully integrated cloud platform service, as well as third-party auditors who can verify that the app is not sharing information with Beijing or China. The efforts in Project Texas appear to address the U.S. government concerns and allow a medium of U.S. government oversight over the application’s data collection and use.
With 100 million users, TikTok reshaped the social media landscape in the Unites States, and with 1 billion users globally, it poses a real threat to the American ecosystem and popular culture if used unethically. It is strongly recommended that businesses that permit employees to access corporate emails on their personal smart phones prohibit the use of TikTok by those employees as a condition of employment.