AUSTIN, Texas (NEXSTAR) — Amid growing national security concerns, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s ban of TikTok on state-issued devices halted activity on pages for state agencies and universities.
“The threat of the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate the United States continues to grow on multiple fronts,” Gov. Abbott said in a letter sent to state agencies earlier this month. “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.”
The order bans state employees from having TikTok on state-issued devices, joining similar bans in more than a dozen states.
“There are legitimate concerns that TikTok might be a dangerous place, especially for state employees, for people who might have sensitive information on their devices,” tech and culture journalist Omar Gallaga said, drawing a contrast from other social media giants that also collect their users’ personal information. “The main concern is that it’s a Chinese company… it’s a foreign nation where this company is based versus Facebook or Google or other companies that have U.S. headquarters.”
Texas’ ban also extends to public universities. Days after Abbott’s order, the University of Texas at Austin notified employees they must “immediately remove TikTok from all state-issued devices.”
“It is the policy of The University of Texas at Austin to manage risks to and safeguard the university’s resources from threats posed by malware and other cyber threats,” the university’s Chief Compliance Officer Jeff Graves said. “Malware includes software that intercepts information and delivers it to a third party without authorization.”
Two of UT’s official TikTok accounts — @hookem and @texaslonghorns — have not posted since before Gov. Abbott’s directive.
Other universities have taken further efforts to remove TikTok from public universities. The University of Oklahoma and Auburn University banned students from accessing the app on university wi-fi. It is unclear whether Texas universities could follow suit, but Gallaga expects Gov. Abbott to take further action.
“The university could say, ‘We don’t mind if you have TikTok, but you’re not going to use it on university property,’ he said. “That certainly is on the table.”
Concerns over TikTok’s data security began in earnest at the federal level when former President Donald Trump considered a federal ban. That came to fruition this month, when Congress banned the app on all federal devices as part of the year-end omnibus spending bill.
TikTok maintains that Americans’ data is not stored in China, but Gov. Abbott took issue with that defense.
While TikTok has claimed that it stores U.S. data within the U.S., the company admitted in a letter to Congress that China-based employees can have access to that U.S. data,” he wrote in the letter to state agencies. “It has also been reported that ByteDance planned to use TikTok location information to surveil individual American citizens.”
TikTok remains the dominant social media especially among younger users, however, with more than a billion users worldwide and offices in Austin.
“Facebook, Google, Apple, have all done shady things with our data,” Gallaga said. “We willingly do that with U.S. companies. The only difference here is there is concern there are some national security issues.”