The popular mobile app TikTok has been banned from mobile devices issued by the US House of Representatives, according to a memo received by NBC News.
The memo follows earlier warnings about the app issued in August this year and states that the cybersecurity unit for the House claims that TikTok is of high risk due to security issues. The memo, written by Catherine L. Szpindor, the Chief Administrative officer of the House, says:
House staff are NOT allowed to download the TikTok app on any House mobile device. If you have the TikTok app on your House mobile device, you will be contacted to remove it.
TikTok was developed by the app’s Chinese parent company ByteDance and has US officials worried that it could report user data to the Chinese government. The app is criticized for requiring excessive permissions that include being able to retrieve data from external storage and access to contacts on the device. It is also alleged that the app harvests biometrics, including faceprints and voiceprints from videos users upload.
TikTok is a Chinese-Owned Company
ByteDance denied sharing user data with the Chinese government, but in August 2022, the House stated:
TikTok is a Chinese-owned company, and any use of this platform should be done with that in mind. [The] TikTok mobile application has been deemed by the CAO Office of CyberSecurity to be a high-risk to users due to its lack of transparency in how it protects customer data, its requirement of excessive permissions, and the potential security risks involved with its use. Additionally, we believe the user base should be aware that this application is known to store users’ Data Location, Photos, and other Personally Identifiable Information (PII) in servers located in China and potentially mined for commercial and private purposes.
Now, the House has gone one step further from just warning about the app to banning the app from being downloaded on House-issued devices altogether. The House is not the first US Government institution to ban TikTok. In 2020, the app was banned for US military service personnel, and in December, Virginia joined several other states in banning the app on government devices.
TikTok says that all US customer data is held in US Oracle cloud servers and that if TikTok employees in China want to access the data, they are subject to strict security controls approved by the US-based security team. Still, the concerns for US policymakers are real and Republican senator Marco Rubio has called for a complete nationwide ban on the popular app.
Is this a valid and serious response to a genuine political threat, or is it another example of American McCarthyism? Only time will tell.