Mar 12, 2020 - Technology

GOP senators introduce bill to ban TikTok on government devices

Photo illustration: Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

Republican Sens. Josh Hawley and Rick Scott are introducing legislation to bar federal employees from using TikTok on government devices, citing national security concerns.

The big picture: Chinese tech companies like TikTok parent ByteDance are drawing rising scrutiny from policymakers who argue that Beijing can tap them to harvest vast amounts of data from Americans.

Details: The No TikTok on Government Devices Act would ban all federal employees from installing "TikTok or any successor application developed by ByteDance or any entity owned by ByteDance on any device issued by the United States or a government corporation."

  • The measure wouldn't apply in the context of cybersecurity research, intelligence gathering or any federal investigation or enforcement action.
  • “TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that includes Chinese Communist Party members on its board, and it is required by law to share user data with Beijing," Hawley said in a statement. "[I]t has no place on government devices."

Context: TikTok, a wildly popular video app, doesn't collect much personal information compared to other social media platforms, and there's little public evidence that it is monitoring other activity on its users' devices.

  • But it reserves the right under its terms of service to collect location and other data, and cybersecurity experts caution that user behavior on TikTok could be used to train artificial intelligence systems.

Go deeper: Why TikTok and Huawei are in lawmakers' sights

Go deeper

TikTok plans Los Angeles "transparency center" to assuage critics

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

TikTok said Tuesday that it plans to open a "transparency center" in Los Angeles where experts can observe the Chinese-owned platform's moderation processes.

Why it matters: Critics have worried over the degree to which China might influence TikTok's content policies and practices, now or in the future.

TikTok forms outside group to help shape content moderation policies

Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP via Getty Images.

TikTok on Wednesday unveiled a group of outside advisers with expertise in child safety, hate speech, misinformation and other areas that will help guide its content moderation policies.

The big picture: Online platforms are facing intense scrutiny from lawmakers and even the Justice Department over how they decide what their users can and can't say and do.

Why TikTok and Huawei are in lawmakers' sights

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Policymakers in D.C. are targeting a handful of specific Chinese-owned companies as they try to thread the needle between protecting U.S. security and avoiding wider disruption of the two nations' interdependent economies.

The big picture: A new wave of proposals in Congress is turning TikTok, Huawei and other specific companies into proxies in Washington's broader power struggle with Beijing.