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Senate Bill Would Ban TikTok from US Government Phones

Last edited: April 12, 2020
Reading time: 3 minutes, 45 seconds

Republican Senator Josh Hawley has introduced legislation banning federal employees from using the social media app TikTok. He accused the company of sharing data with the Chinese government. The bill has been approved in the house and now awaits a vote in the senate. In 2019, TikTok was the most downloaded app in the US.

TikTok has Ties to Chinese Government

The bill, looking to ban the use of TikTok by all federal employees on all federal government devices, was introduced to the house on March 12 by republican senators Josh Hawley and Rick Scott. The main reasoning for this move is that TikTok is owned by Chinese company ByteDance. Under Chinese law it is required to share user data with the government if they ask for it. This can therefore be regarded as a security risk for US users.

During the introduction in the house Hawley stated the following: “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. The company even admitted it collects user data while their app is running in the background”.

The ban has been approved as part of the Rights for Transportation Security Officers Act (H.R.1140). The TikTok legislation was added to the bill by an amendment approved unanimously.

The Pentagon, the State department, the department of Homeland Security, and the TSA have all banned their employees from using TikTok on government devices in the past. This was done due to security concerns and worries about possible spying by the Chinese government.

The app was formerly used in recruiting cadets for the army, but senator Chuck Schumer raised some concerns about the security of the platform. A spokesperson for the Navy stated that normally personnel are allowed to use popular social media apps on their government devices, though sometimes specific apps are banned due to security risks. TikTok became one of those last December.

The Platform’s response

TikTok has previously said that it doesn’t store any US user data in China. This means that the Chinese cannot access this information. The information is stored under US law. But there has been a long growing concern in the US about China and their lack of free speech and internet safety. People are worried that the information will still find its way into Chinese hands.

A TikTok spokesperson has said he would like to meet some lawmakers to discuss the issues. “While we think the concerns are unfounded, we understand them and are continuing to further strengthen our safeguards while increasing our dialogue with lawmakers to help explain our policies,” he said.

TikTok Privacy Policy

When you take a look at TikTok’s privacy policy you see that they collect a lot of information about you that could be shared. This could potentially be dangerous. They collect data on your location, messages, and browsing behavior.

“We collect information about the device you use to access the Platform, including your IP address, unique device identifiers, model of your device, your mobile carrier, time zone setting, screen resolution, operating system, app and file names and types, keystroke patterns or rhythms, and platform.”

And that is when you have chosen not to link any other social networks to your account. Whenever you feed information into the app it will be used to create a user profile. By only setting up a profile on the platform you give them so much already. And that is before you’ve even posted something.

Safety Settings

It might be good to know that the default safety settings on TikTok aren’t the best for your privacy. When you go into your account and click “Privacy and Safety” you find some options to make your TikTok experiences a bit safer. Under “Safety” you’ll be able to see that the default setting for most options is “Everyone”. You might want to reconsider that one and change it so that only firends can see it. Especially if you’re a minor using the platform. Cause sadly there are many people online that have bad intentions.

Charitable Giving

Amidst all this controversy TikTok is following other big tech companies in the fight against the corona crisis. The company announced last week that they will be supporting medical personal, teachers, and communities. TikTok has put $250 million aside to do so. On top of that, they are handing over advertising space to public health organizations and businesses looking to rebuild, worth another $125 million.

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cyber security analyst and one of the founders of VPNoverview.com. Interested in the "digital identity" phenomenon, with special attention to the right to privacy and protection of personal data.

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