The US and Canada have followed the European Commission in banning the use of ByteDance-owned TikTok from employees devices due to national security concerns, with the White House setting a 30-day deadline for government workers to remove the app from their mobile phones and other devices.
The White House’s Office of Management and Budget handed down the deadline in a memo issued Monday (February 27).
With the straightforward subject, “No TikTok on Government Devices,” the office’s director, Shalanda Young, told all government departments and agencies in the US to “remove and disallow installations” of TikTok on devices owned by agencies and prohibit internet traffic from reaching TikTok.
Young’s office will work with other relevant agencies including the Administrator of General Services, the Director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, the Director of National Intelligence, and the Secretary of Defense “to develop standards and guidelines for agencies requiring the removal of TikTok from Federal information technology.”
The deadline follows US President Joe Biden’s move to sign into law at the end of 2022 a limited ban on TikTok for federal agencies. The ban affects nearly 4 million government workers, with limited exceptions for law enforcement, national security and security research purposes.
The ban of TikTok on federal devices marks a culmination of a movement that started in 2020 to have the app deleted from government devices after a proposed ban by former President Donald Trump was rejected in court.
While the ban would only affect a small portion of TikTok’s user base in the US, market watchers speculate that it could trigger calls for an outright ban on TikTok in the country.
TikTok has about 100 million monthly active users in the US.
In mid-December, US lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation to ban TikTok in the US in a bid to “protect Americans by blocking and prohibiting all transactions from any social media company in, or under the influence of, China, Russia, and several other foreign countries of concern.”
Senator Marco Rubio, at the time, said TikTok is an app “that is collecting data on tens of millions of American children and adults every day.”
“We know it’s used to manipulate feeds and influence elections. We know it answers to the People’s Republic of China,” said Rubio.
US Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi added: “At a time when the Chinese Communist Party and our other adversaries abroad are seeking any advantage they can find against the United States through espionage and mass surveillance, it is imperative that we do not allow hostile powers to potentially control social media networks that could be easily weaponized against us.”
The White House’s latest move comes amid growing geopolitical tensions between the US and China after the US downed what is believed to be a Chinese surveillance balloon.
On Monday (February 27), Canada also announced the banning of TikTok from all government-issued devices.
“I suspect that as government takes the significant step of telling all federal employees that they can no longer use TikTok on their work phones many Canadians from business to private individuals will reflect on the security of their own data and perhaps make choices,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.
If Western countries impose a wider ban on TikTok beyond government devices, it could derail TikTok’s attempts to further grow its business outside its legacy video-sharing platform.
TikTok has attempted various measures to address national security concerns by governments including the US. It previously moved US users’ data to servers in the US, and is now trying to appease regulators and US officials with ‘Project Texas.’
Under the plan, ByteDance will take measures to prevent the Chinese government from having access to data on American users and offer the US government oversight of the platform, according to The New York Times.
“We knew that, in order to earn trust, we would have to build a system that provided an unprecedented level of security and transparency — that’s what we’ve done and will continue to do,” TikTok’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, told the NYT in an interview a month ago.
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