More lawmakers want to stop federal employees from downloading and using the TikTok app on government issued mobile devices.
A second bill (H.R. 6896) that would prohibit the app’s use has been introduced in the House by Congressman Ken Buck (R-CO). The bill is companion legislation to one that was introduced in the Senate (S. 3455) in March by Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO).
Buck called TikTok a “parasitic spyware app” in a press release about the bill and noted that the Defense, State and Homeland Security departments have already been taking steps to limit its use because of surveillance threats it presents.
“TikTok is a Chinese owned company and is required by law to share whatever information the Chinese Communist Party wants whenever it wants. Because of this, several federal agencies have already taken steps to restrict the spyware app on government devices. Our bill takes it a step further, banning TikTok on all government-owned devices in the interest of national security. TikTok is a cybersecurity threat to our country. We cannot allow China’s parasitic spyware app to collect data from United States government officials,” Buck said in a statement.
Hawley said in hearing in advance of introducing his bill that TikTok was required by Chinese law to share user data with the Chinese government.
Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), who was a co-sponsor of the bill, said that if federal employees used the app it would create security risks for the government. “The use of apps like TikTok by federal employees on government devices is a risk to our network and a threat to our national security…,” Scott said.
So what is TikTok?
The company’s website states, “TikTok is the leading destination for short-form mobile video. Our mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy.”
Vox described it as an app “where under-60-second videos often feature bizarre memes, inside jokes, and bite-sized sketch comedy, has become the defining social media app of Gen Z, not only in the US but around the world in places like India and Europe.”
TikTok vs. the Federal Government
Is TikTok really unsafe? That seems to depend on who you ask.
Lawmakers in the United States have clearly decided it is a security risk. In addition to the bills mentioned above, an investigation was launched last fall after Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in which he expressed concerns about TikTok being acquired by Musical.ly “without any oversight and relaunched the service [TikTok] for Western markets.”
“These Chinese-owned apps are increasingly being used to censor content and silence open discussion on topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese Government and Communist Party,” wrote Rubio.
Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) also called for a formal investigation into TikTok shortly thereafter to determine if it posed national security risks.
The federal government eventually launched an investigation into TikTok in November as the concerns from lawmakers piled up. Bans on the use of the app in government started not long after that.
TikTok, however, maintains that it is safe and does not remove content that China might deem sensitive.
“Let us be very clear: TikTok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China. We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period,” read a statement from TikTok issued last October when the concerns in Congress were mounting.
The company also maintains that it is committed to working with Congress. In a statement to Vox in December, a TikTok spokesperson said, “TikTok has made it clear that we have no higher priority than earning the trust of users and regulators in the US. Part of that includes working with Congress and we are committed to doing so.”
Despite all of that, lawmakers clearly remain unconvinced as the bills to ban TikTok’s use on government devices continue to be introduced.
As for individual Americans using it on their own devices, that is a choice they are free to make. In analyzing the situation, Yahoo! Finance had this to say: “…users should probably treat TikTok with caution like they would with any other social platform (read: Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Almost all of these platforms are vulnerable to security flaws, and anyone who decides to open a TikTok account should know fully well what they are getting into. While social media is a great tool to connect with friends and strangers alike, it should never be mistaken as a safe space for personal content.”