In response to a governor’s directive, the University of Texas-Austin officially blocked access to the popular social media app TikTok on its campus wired and wireless internet networks.
The Texas Tribune reported the news of the TikTok ban. The app is owned by ByteDance, which has strong ties to the Chinese Communist Party, has not documented how or where it stores user information, has not explained how its algorithms work or whether the Chinese Communist Party has direct access to TikTok user’s data. For these reasons, the federal government banned TikTok use for federal employees.
TikTok is popular among teenagers and college students, but that has not deterred policymakers due to the significant security concerns.
Gov. Greg Abbott, on December 7, 2022, issued a directive to state agencies to ban employees from using or downloading the app on devices issued by the government, such as desktop computers, laptops, and cellphones. Law enforcement agencies are exempted from the directive, but the governor also instructed two state agencies, the Department of Public Safety and Department of Information Resources, to create plans on the use of TikTok on personal devices. State agencies are expected to create personal use policies by February 15, but the directive should have been sent to state universities by January 15.
Technology adviser Jeff Neyland, who works for UT-Austin, said, “The university is taking these important steps to eliminate risks to information contained in the university’s network and to our critical infrastructure.” Neyland added, “As outlined in the governor’s directive, 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.”
UT-Austin is not the only Texas university to ban TikTok use, as the University of Texas-Dallas, University of North Texas, and Texas A&M University System announced similar measures.
Texas A&M spokesperson, Laylan Copelin, said, “[W]e are in the process of putting in place network based filtering that will block both wireless and wired access to downloading or accessing the app from our campus network, which means students, faculty, staff and visitors will not be able to use the app when connected to an A&M network.”
University of North Texas chief communications officer, Laken Rapier, said, “[D]evices capable of internet connectivity’ require a network to connect to the internet …Thus, blocking TikTok at the network level prevents … ‘devices capable of internet connectivity’ from downloading or using TikTok.”
The University of Houston and Texas Tech University said they had not received state guidance and are awaiting official guidance before taking action.
Other universities across the country banned TikTok use on its campus internet networks, such as the University of Oklahoma, some universities in the University System of Georgia, and Auburn University.
But TikTok said it was disappointed in the growing bans throughout the United States.Bottom of Form “We’re 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,” the statement read, “We’re especially sorry to see the unintended consequences of these rushed policies beginning to impact universities’ ability to share information, recruit students, and build communities around athletic teams, student groups, campus publications, and more.”
Yet TikTok’s statement did not answer security-questions asked by policymakers and relied on rhetoric to make its point.