TikTok bans on government-owned devices and internet networks are popping up around the country, and Tennessee is the latest state making a move to limit the Chinese-owned app over fears about security.
The Tennessee Senate Education Committee on Feb. 22 unanimously voted to block access to TikTok and other foreign-owned video apps from the state’s public college and university internet connections.
State Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who is chair of the committee, sponsored the bill.
“The biggest secret in the military is how we get our secrets,” said Lundberg. “Over the past few weeks we have talked and been concerned as a country about balloons. … What we have at our finger tips literally are thousands of balloons with our cell phones.”
This bill, Lundberg said, blocks apps that “can be used to our detriment,” specifically naming WeChat and TikTok. WeChat is an instant messaging app also based in China.
A similar bill is being considered by the Tennessee House, sponsored by Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby.
The bill wouldn’t ban Tennessee college students from using the wildly popular social media app, but they wouldn’t be able to access it using campus-provided wifi.
In at least 30 other states, lawmakers have already banned the China-based video platform in some form. Most of them have blocked the app from being accessed via government-funded devices.
Their concern? Other countries accessing and abusing Americans’ private data.
“I truly believe this is a security threat to the United States not from a balloon but from us,” Lundberg said.
Similar bans on other college campuses
Universities in Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia also are among those limiting access and shutting down official university accounts. The colleges often cite recent state and federal level bans when taking action.
- Auburn University announced last month that users will not be able to access TikTok on university internet services after Gov. Kay Ivey banned its use on state-owned devices. New posts on university-affiliated TikTok accounts will be allowed, just not using university Wi-Fi, spokesperson Preston Sparks told USA TODAY.
- Arkansas State University chief communication officer Bill Smith told KATV TikTok is no longer available for students using university Wi-Fi, saying school officials “feel compelled to go along with what’s requested of us from the state government.”
- The University System of Georgia banned TikTok on devices owned by the system and its 26 universities and colleges. Chancellor Sonny Perdue said in a memo that students, faculty and staff can still use TikTok on devices owned by university-related foundations if they don’t access personal information or sensitive information related to university business.
- To comply with Gov. Brad Little’s executive order in December, officials at Idaho State University blocked TikTok on its networks, asked employees to remove the app from state-owned devices and deactivated its official TikTok account, spokesperson Emily Frandsen said. Student organizations can still run TikTok accounts, she said. TikTok has been banned from state-owned devices at the University of Idaho, but personally owned devices can still use TikTok “on student or guest networks,” according to the school’s technical support page. Boise State University notified students and faculty of a similar ban in December, The Idaho Statesman reported.
- The Iowa Board of Regents directed the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa to remove TikTok from all school-owned devices and stop using school-owned TikTok accounts in December.
- All 16 schools under in the Montana University System must remove TikTok from all school-owned devices, block the app from campus Wi-Fi and deactivate all official school accounts, according to a directive from the commissioner of higher education. But schools may provide exceptions for approved educational or research purposes.
- In December, Oklahoma State University, The University of Central Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma implemented similar bans on TikTok. But after learning Gov. KevinStitt’s order does not apply to public universities, the University of Oklahoma is reviewing TikTok security concerns and has “paused changes to university-administered accounts until the completion of our review,” spokesperson Jacob Guthrie told USA TODAY.
- The executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents said in December that state universities will obey the governor’s TikTok ban on state devices and will delete TikTok accounts, The South Dakota Searchlight reported.
- The University of Texas at Austin recently removed TikTok from all government-issued devices and blocked access to TikTok on its networks to comply with a directive in December from Gov. Greg Abbott, according to a statement from Jeff Neyland, adviser to the president for technology strategy. The University of Houston System scanned more than 20,000 university-owned devices and removed TikTok from the six where it was found, spokesperson Shawn Lindsey told USA TODAY. Texas A&M University also restricted access to TikTok from state-owned devices and is in the process of blocking access to the app on campus Wi-Fi, spokesperson Laylan Copelin said.
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Do TikTok bans work?
The restrictions do not erase TikTok from campus, said Vanessa Dennen, professor of instructional systems and learning technologies at Florida State University. Users can still access the app on personal devices using cellular data.
“Personnel data, student data, our research data – the protection of data is something that we’re highly concerned with,” Dennen said. “There seems to be sufficient reasonable concern from a data security issue or standpoint and it’s not unusual for universities to have this kind of a concern.”
University of Texas at Austin professors Natalie Stroud and Samuel Woolley questioned whether the ban will have the intended security effect given staff are able to access university systems on their personal devices as well.
“It’s unclear to me what the specific threat is of potential data gathered by the Chinese government,” Woolley added.
USA TODAY contributed to this report.
Areena Arora, data and investigative reporter for Knox News, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AreenaArora. Support our newsroom’s exclusive, in-depth local coverage by subscribing at knoxnews.com/subscribe.