Feb 27, 2023 - Technology

White House: Federal agencies have 30 days to remove TikTok from devices

The TikTok logo is displayed outside a TikTok office on December 20, 2022 in Culver City, California. Congress is pushing legislation to ban the popular Chinese-owned social media app from most government devices. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

The White House has mandated that federal agencies remove TikTok from phones and systems in a bid to keep U.S. data safe, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced Monday.

The big picture: The ban follows similar actions from Canada, the EU and Taiwan, notes Reuters, which first reported the news.

  • Several states including Texas, Maryland and South Dakota, have already barred state employees and contractors from using TikTok on government-issued devices.

Why it matters: FBI Director Chris Wray warned in December that TikTok, which is owned by ByteDance, could be used for "influence operations."

  • The Chinese government holds the key to the app's recommendation algorithm, which "allows them to manipulate content, and if they want to, to use it for influence operations."
  • Beijing also maintains the ability to collect user data, Wray noted.

Of note: Both the House and Senate passed bills banning the app from government devices last year.

Between the lines: The ban does not affect any "national security, law enforcement or security research activities," per the OMB memo.

  • But agency "leadership must approve these activities... and blanket exceptions applying to an entire agency are not permitted."

What they're saying: "The Biden-Harris Administration has invested heavily in defending our nation’s digital infrastructure and curbing foreign adversaries’ access to Americans’ data," said Chris DeRusha, federal chief information security officer, in an emailed statement on Monday night.

  • "This guidance is part of the Administration’s ongoing commitment to securing our digital infrastructure and protecting the American people’s security and privacy."

The other side: Brooke Oberwetter, a spokesperson at TikTok, said in a statement said the U.S. prohibition on federal devices that passed in December "without any deliberation" had "served as a blueprint" for other governments and called such bans "political theater."

  • "We hope that when it comes to addressing national security concerns about TikTok beyond government devices, Congress will explore solutions that won't have the effect of censoring the voices of millions of Americans," Oberwetter said.
  • "The swiftest and most thorough way to address any national security concerns about TikTok is for CFIUS [Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States] to adopt the proposed agreement that we worked with them on for nearly two years," Oberwetter added.
  • "These plans have been developed under the oversight of our country's top national security agencies, and we are well underway in implementing them to further secure our platform in the United States."

Go deeper: TikTok drama underscores growing U.S.-China divide

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Chris DeRusha, federal chief information security officer, and further context.

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