Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter on December 7 to Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Texas Speaker Dade Phelan, and state agency leaders asking for the popular app TikTok to be removed from any devices associated with government data.
State agencies must also implement policies regarding TikTok on personal employee devices, to address vulnerabilities presented by the use of TikTok on such devices, by February 15, 2023.
“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’s letter reads.
“The company admitted in a letter to Congress that China-based employees can have access to U.S. data,” the letter goes on. Abbott also urged that cybersecurity be a major talking point among representatives in January’s legislative session.
As experts continue to express concern about potential cybersecurity issues, many states are beginning to ban short-form video apps from government devices.
Maryland announced Tuesday that TikTok will be banned on all executive branch devices. South Dakota, South Carolina, and Nebraska also have similar bans. The U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and TSA followed Pentagon guidance in 2019 by prohibiting the app from being on any government-owned devices and strongly urged soldiers to delete it from personal cell phones.
TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in China. Companies in China are required by the Chinese Communist Party to share sensitive information with authorities, including data gathered from abroad. This led the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to announce “national security concerns” regarding the alleged intelligence-gathering tactics being used by the Chinese government.
“They include the possibility that the Chinese government could use it to control data collection on millions of users or control the recommendation algorithm, which could be used for influence operations if they so chose, or to control software on millions of devices, which gives it an opportunity to potentially technically compromise personal devices,” FBI Director Christopher Wray stated in November.
ByteDance claims that a firewall security system separates its servers in China from those hosted in the United States. However, a recent discovery by Forbes found that TikTok’s “Internal Audit and Risk Control department” purposefully directed its software to track the location of certain U.S. users. Such instances have raised security concerns nationwide.
Indiana Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita is concerned that TikTok may mislead its users in other ways. The state of Indiana has opened two lawsuits over false messaging in TikTok’s marketing.
“An essential part of TikTok’s business model is presenting the application as safe and appropriate for children ages 13 to 17,” Rokita stated. TikTok promises users only infrequent moments of mild sexual content and violence, yet Rokita claims that TikTok is “rife with extreme examples of such material.”
Rokita said that the app makes “salacious and inappropriate content” available to young users “for unlimited periods of time, day and night, in an effort to line TikTok’s pockets with billions of dollars from U.S. consumers.”
“With this pair of lawsuits, we hope to force TikTok to stop its false, deceptive and misleading practices, which violate Indiana law,” said Rokita in a press release.
TikTok maintains roughly 1 billion monthly users worldwide.