State, federal govs. ban TikTok

By Pat Gainor, Staff Writer

In one of the first moves of his second term, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced last week that the popular video-sharing app TikTok has been banned from all devices owned by the state.

This decision comes in the wake of a new bipartisan movement against TikTok and its China-based parent company, ByteDance, regarding the potential spread of misinformation and the unauthorized collection of personal data by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Ohio is the 22nd of 26 states to enforce a total ban of TikTok on state-owned devices.

“These surreptitious data privacy and cybersecurity practices pose national and local security and cybersecurity threats to users of these applications and platforms and the devices storing the applications and platforms,” DeWine said on Jan. 8, announcing the ban.

This ban disallows state or city-owned departments from owning an account on TikTok, as well as government officials. The Ohio Department of Transportation TikTok account, with nearly 100,000 followers, was terminated the day after the ban was enforced. 

According to a report by FBI Director Christopher Wray, ByteDance’s user database has access to user’s names, ages, phone numbers, email addresses, device details, mobile network details, keystrokes, private messages on the app and biometric data such as fingerprints or voiceprints.

“There’s an extensive profile that can be created from this app in terms of privacy violations and things being easily linked back to you as a unique individual,” Alexis Hancock, director of engineering at Electronic Frontier Foundation, explained.

With the increased awareness of the collection of private data and the spread of misinformation, the fear that the CCP could potentially have access to ByteDance’s database and sensitive government information, Wray’s report has led lawmakers to push a bill through Congress enforcing the ban.

Some lawmakers, including Governor Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), have banned all Beijing-based apps alongside TikTok from official devices, notably products and apps owned by Huawei, Hikvision and Tencent Holdings.

ByteDance released a statement denouncing the ban, saying the company was “disappointed that so many states are jumping on the political bandwagon to enact policies that will do nothing to advance cybersecurity in their states and are based on unfounded falsehoods about TikTok.”

 TikTok has subsequently placed a hold on the hiring process of U.S. consultants that would help them strike a security agreement with the U.S. government.

After former Trump nearly placed a full ban on TikTok in 2020, ByteDance officials have continuously tried to keep the company in good standing with the U.S., with several attempts to prove that the data they accrue cannot be accessed by the Chinese government.

TikTok is the most popular social media app among teenagers and young adults, according to a Pew Research study.