Jan 18, 2023 - News

Texas universities bar TikTok access on their networks

Illustration of an anvil swaying back and forth above the tiktok app icon

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

The University of Texas on Tuesday blocked access to TikTok on its Wi-Fi networks.

The big picture: The decision by UT shows how efforts to ban the Chinese-owned app over cybersecurity fears by Republican and Democratic officials is filtering down to everyday use of the short-video colossus.

  • The UT announcement comes in the wake of Gov. Greg Abbott's Dec. 7 directive barring the use of TikTok on state devices.
  • "TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users' devices — including when, where and how they conduct internet activity — and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government," Abbott wrote to state agencies.

Why it matters: College students are in the bread-and-butter demographic for the social media giant, which has roughly 80 million U.S. users.

The university had already begun removing TikTok from all government-issued devices, including university-issued cell phones, laptops, tablets and desktop computers.

Zoom out: By Tuesday evening, Texas A&M, UT-Dallas and the University of North Texas had banned or announced plans to ban TikTok on their networks, per the Texas Tribune.

  • "We no longer post to TikTok," reads the TikTok page of the Texas A&M University Physics and Astronomy Department. The most recent video on the page is from December 6 — a day before Abbott's directive.
  • More than 20 state governments have banned the app on government-issued devices — and officials at the University of Oklahoma, Auburn University in Alabama and the University System of Georgia — which includes 26 universities and colleges — have previously said they will restrict student and faculty access to TikTok.

What they're saying: "The university is taking these important steps to eliminate risks to information contained in the university's network and to our critical infrastructure," UT technology adviser Jeff Neyland wrote Tuesday to students.

The other side: "We're disappointed that so many states are jumping on the political bandwagon to enact policies that will do nothing to advance cybersecurity … and are based on unfounded falsehoods," TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown said in a statement emailed to Axios.

  • "We're especially sorry to see … these rushed policies beginning to impact universities' ability to share information, recruit students, and build communities around athletic teams, student groups, campus publications, and more," Brown continued.

Reality check: UT students and others can still access TikTok by switching to other networks.

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