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  • Philip Osadebay - Tech Journalist

Why some US States are cracking down on Tiktok

Two years after TikTok avoided a state ban in the United States, the popular short-form video app is now facing a growing backlash at the state level.

In the past two weeks, at least seven states have announced they will ban public employees from using the app on government equipment, including Alabama, Maryland, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah and Texas. (Another state, Nebraska, banned TikTok on state devices in 2020.) The state of Indiana last week announced two lawsuits against TikTok, accusing the Chinese-owned platform of its approach to age-appropriate content and data security.

As of last week, 5-member group of ombudsmen wrote to Apple and Google, urging the app store owners to stop listing TikTok as suitable for teenagers due to claims that the application contains only adult content.

Growing pressure on TikTok has come from states led by Republican governors, who have highlighted fears that the personal data of TikTok users could end up in the hands of Chinese government with the help of the country's national security laws.

Over the years, closed-door negotiations between have been going on with TikTok and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States which is an opaque multi-agency panel.

Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, it is expected that there will still be a significant impact on TikTok and its users.

US lawmakers expressed mutual concern that China's national security laws could force TikTok or its parent company ByteDance to hand over the personal data of its US users. Security experts said the data could allow China to identify espionage opportunities or try to influence US users through disinformation campaigns.

TikTok said it will work with the US government to resolve any reasonable national security concerns. Tiktok has also taken steps to separate US user data from other of its business.

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The change requires TikTok's US security team to review and approve content policies developed by TikTok for its global audience to ensure compliance. TikTok said content moderation related to US user data is handled by the US digital security group's US trust and security team, not its global trust and security team.

TikTok has previously acknowledged that Chinese employees currently have access to user data and has also refused to stop sending US user data to China.

Because state agencies have clear authority to monitor their devices as they see fit, preventing public employees from using the app is low-hanging. In a way, states that have restricted TikTok are following the lead of the federal government. The US military, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security have already banned their personnel from using TikTok.

States including Maryland, have imposed their TikTok bans on government devices as part of a broader crackdown on Chinese products and services, making the announcement more about China than TikTok. The Maryland directive also applies to Huawei and ZTE, which the US government has also taken steps to prevent from entering the US market.

Some states may also decide to move forward with significant legislation that effectively restricts TikTok on private devices. But such a move would likely raise other business regulatory issues and could lead to legal challenges.


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