Earlier this week, the Biden Administration notified all federal agencies that the Chinese-produced social media video-sharing app TikTok must be removed from all government devices within 30 days. The app, produced by Chinese-based ByteDance, has been under intense scrutiny due to security concerns.
The Biden White House had previously lifted a Trump-era ban on TikTok, but still mandated a board review of the app to determine whether it posed a security threat the United States. A lingering concern according to cybersecurity experts has been that TikTok is able to avoid code audits on the Apple and Google app stores, and that it could be capable of changing how it works without users’ knowledge.
Moreover, the app was found to utilize device tracking that could provide ByteDance and third parties access to user data including location. For those reasons, it was banned by use on U.S. military devices. Last fall, FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers in Washington that he was “extremely concerned” that Beijing could weaponize data collected on the platform.
As previously reported, Wray’s admonition of the social media platform also came just days after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) was joined by U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisconsin) in calling for a national ban on TikTok. At issue with Sen. Rubio and Rep. Gallagher is the fact that under China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, all of its citizens and businesses are required to assist in intelligence gathering, and must share any data with Beijing.
“Anyone with TikTok downloaded on their device has given the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) a backdoor to all their personal information. It’s a spy balloon into your phone,” said Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, via a statement.
Total Government Push to Delete TikTok
It now seems that the concerns are being taken seriously across the federal government, and last Monday, the Office of Management and Budget called the guidance a “critical step forward in addressing the risks presented by the app to sensitive government data.
The Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the State Department already had restrictions in place regarding the use of TikTok, but the new guidance calls upon the rest of the federal government to follow suit within 30 days.
The White House had already banned TikTok on government-owned devices.
“The Biden-Harris Administration has invested heavily in defending our nation’s digital infrastructure and curbing foreign adversaries’ access to Americans’ data,” Chris DeRusha, the federal chief information security officer told reporters earlier this week. “This guidance is part of the Administration’s ongoing commitment to securing our digital infrastructure and protecting the American people’s security and privacy.”
This follows Congress’ passage of the “No TikTok on Government Device Act” in December, which was part of the sweeping government funding package. That legislation did allow for TikTok use in certain cases however. That include for national security, law enforcement and research purposes.
TikTok has fired back at the calls to ban the app.
“The ban of TikTok on federal devices passed in December without any deliberation, and unfortunately that approach has served as a blueprint for other world governments. These bans are little more than political theater,” TikTok spokesperson Brooke Oberwetter told reporters via a statement.
Americans Seeing the Threat
According to a new survey conducted by information technology provider Electric, a majority of Americans now believe TikTok is a security threat. The study found that 63% of Americans said they felt TikTok is collecting personal information for nefarious purposes, while 42% of Americans said that the government should ban TikTok entirely.
The survey was conducted just weeks after the Chinese “spy balloon” may have convinced Americans that Beijing is seeking to discover American secrets.
“With cybersecurity risks at an all-time high, Americans are rightfully concerned about their safety,” explained Seth Steinman, senior director of growth at Electric.
Yet, not all Americans are convinced the threat is real, and this is especially true among those who see it as a harmless video-sharing platform.
“When looking deeper into the numbers, only 19% of TikTok users want it banned, compared to 56% of non-users,” Steinman told ClearanceJobs via an email. “Based on our findings, it’s evident that those who use TikTok want to keep using it.”
Given that this has become a rare sign of bipartisanship in Washington, the clock looks like it could soon run out for TikTok.