Dec 6, 2022 - Economy

Texas becomes latest state to ban TikTok on government devices

Photo of a thumb clicking on the TikTok app logo as shown on a phone screen

The TikTok logo as shown on a smartphone on July 11, 2022. Photo: Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images

A growing number of GOP-led states are barring state employees and contractors from using TikTok on government-issued devices as the FBI warns of possible threats to national security posed by the Chinese-owned social media platform.

Driving the news: Texas became the latest to do so on Wednesday, joining South Dakota, South Carolina and Maryland, all of which banned the app on government devices in the past week. Wisconsin Republicans are urging their Democratic governor to do the same.

What they're saying: "[U]nder China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, all businesses are required to assist China in intelligence work including data sharing, and TikTok’s algorithm has already censored topics politically sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a letter to state officials Wednesday.

  • "There may be no greater threat to our personal safety and our national security than the cyber vulnerabilities that support our daily lives," Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, whose directive also banned certain Russia-based platforms, said in a statement.
  • "Protecting our State’s critical cyber infrastructure from foreign and domestic threats is key to ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of our citizens and businesses," South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster wrote in a letter requesting that the state's Department of Administration block access to the app.
  • "South Dakota will have no part in the intelligence gathering operations of nations who hate us," South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said in a press release.

Why it matters: TikTok is owned by the Chinese company Bytedance, which is largely subject to the Chinese government given the country's party-state system.

  • As a result, the Chinese government can access the key to the app's recommendation algorithm and collect user data if it wants to, according to FBI Director Chris Wray.

Yes, but: TikTok doesn't operate inside China. ByteDance instead offers a similar version of the app to Chinese customers.

  • TikTok Chief Operating Officer Vanessa Pappas testified at a Senate hearing in September that the company doesn't store U.S. user data in China and doesn't share any with Bytedance.
  • Oracle also began vetting TikTok's algorithms and content moderation models earlier this year to ensure they aren't manipulated by Chinese authorities.

The big picture: TikTok has nevertheless faced growing opposition from officials in both U.S. parties.

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