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Gov. Greg Abbott bans TikTok on state phones and computers, citing cybersecurity risks

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Posted at 3:41 PM, Dec 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-08 16:41:29-05

Gov. Greg Abbott banned the social media platform TikTok from government-issued cellphones and computers on Wednesday, becoming the latest GOP governor to target the video-sharing app over cybersecurity fears.

Abbott cited concerns that TikTok posed a threat to state information given that the app is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance Ltd. Last week, FBI Director Chris Wray expressed worry that the Chinese government could use the app’s recommendation algorithm to manipulate content or users. He warned that the Chinese government doesn’t share the United States’ values and said “that should concern us.”

The video-sharing app, which has popularized dance trends and inspired viral challenges, had almost 87 million users in the U.S. in 2021. The federal government has warned of TikTok’s security risks for years. In 2020, then-President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app.

Republican governors in South Dakota, South Carolina and Maryland have banned TikTok from government-issued devices. Republicans in Wisconsin petitioned their Democratic governor to do the same.

In letters to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dade Phelan and state agency leaders, Abbott said banning TikTok from government-issued cellphones, laptops, tablets and desktop computers would protect sensitive information and critical infrastructure from the Chinese government.

“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 read.

Abbott acknowledged that TikTok has said its data is stored in the U.S., but he expressed concern that the Chinese government could use the app to surveil American citizens.

The governor also directed the Department of Public Safety and the Department of Information Resources to develop a plan to address the use of TikTok on the personal devices of government employees. One area of focus Abbott mentioned included network-based restrictions that would prevent access to TikTok while on agency property.

Abbott left some room for flexibility in the social media ban, allowing state agency leaders to use TikTok for law-enforcement investigations and “other legitimate uses.”

On Wednesday, Indiana’s attorney general sued TikTok, alleging the company deceived users about how China can access their data, according to The New York Times. The lawsuit also said the app exposed minors to mature content.

Earlier this year, the Austin Business Journal reported that TikTok leased over 125,000 square feet of office space in Austin.

Disclosure: The New York Times has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/12/07/greg-abbott-tiktok-ban/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.