New York City banning TikTok on government-owned devices

2023-08-17 11:16:21China Daily Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

New York City has followed a host of U.S. states banning the video-sharing app TikTok from government devices, but the move has been questioned by regular users.

The directive issued on Wednesday requires TikTok, owned by Beijing-based ByteDance, to be removed from the devices in 30 days.

The order came after the New York City Cyber Command, a unit that monitors cyber threats for the city's City Technology and Innovation Office, said that it investigated TikTok and found it "posed a security threat to the city's technical networks".

All city employees have been asked to stop using the app on city-run devices immediately. They will have to remove it, won't be able to download it, and must not access it, according to online news site The Verge, which first reported the details.

TikTok users in New York responded to the ban.

"I would never have TikTok or any apps for fun on a phone that was given to me by my boss, but I think that Americans are overreacting to the news about TikTok, and it's probably just an excuse to get us to go to war with China," Kevin Ng, 29, a TikTok user, told China Daily.

Andrea Michalski, a TikTok user, told China Daily: "Oh boy, it is hard for me to imagine that another government can actually have that much information just from TikTok views. I have mixed feelings. It is a harmless app, I love it.

"But just like Facebook, like Instagram, and all the other social media apps, if anyone wants to influence people, they definitely can do so through social media," she added.

Charlie Thompson told China Daily: "If this policy goes into effect in terms of the ability of a regular citizen to download apps, and if that doesn't happen, that's pretty good.

"At the end of the day, a device given to you by another entity, they can kind of choose what to do with that. You can still access it on your personal phone, so it should be fine for most people."

A spokesperson for the mayor's office told The Verge: "While social media is great at connecting New Yorkers with one another and the city, we have to ensure we are always using these platforms in a secure manner. The Cyber Command regularly explores and advances proactive measures to keep New Yorkers' data safe."

New York City Mayor Eric Adams is among many officials with their own TikTok accounts. He has 11,600 followers and 71,000 likes. But his page has recently been updated with the message: "This account was operated by NYC until August 2023. It's no longer monitored."

Similar messages were posted to the accounts of the Sanitation, and Parks and Recreation departments.

The Department of Sanitation had become "an unexpected TikTok darling", The New York Times reported, with nearly 50,000 followers with videos highlighting its workers and memes about trash-collection times.

Sanitation Commissioner Jessica Tisch, the Times reported, had a viral TikTok video in which she said: "The rats are absolutely going to hate this announcement. But the rats don't run this city, we do."

In 2020, New York state banned TikTok usage on government-run devices.

Tik Tok had more than 94.1 million users in the United States as of 2022. That number is estimated to have grown to 150 million as of this year. TikTok has faced scrutiny by lawmakers and states questioning how it handles user information.

Government officials in 30 states, including Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia, have restricted or banned the app on government-run devices and in schools.

Montana will ban the use of TikTok in 2024. TikTok sued the state, suggesting the move was unlawful, and that it violated its First Amendment rights.

In December, the U.S. Congress approved a ban of TikTok on federal devices as part of a larger $1.6 trillion government spending bill, which President Joe Biden signed later that month.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump in 2020 sought to bar new downloads of TikTok, but a series of court decisions blocked the ban from taking effect.

In a congressional hearing with members of Congress in March, TikTok's CEO Shou Zi Chew said that the company was privately owned, was not influenced by the Chinese government, and its data had never been accessed.

U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat, questioned Chew over China's data security law and requirements for companies to give their data to the government if requested.

"I have seen no evidence that the Chinese government has access to that data," Chew said. "They have never asked us. We have never provided it."

Chew said that the company had pledged $1.5 billion into its "Project Texas", an initiative to create a new subsidiary called TikTok U.S. Data Security aimed at protecting all data in the United States.

"The protections are storing American data, on American soil, by an American company, looked after by American personnel," Chew said.

Chew said in March that over the past two years, the company has been building a "firewall that seals up protected U.S. user data from unauthorized foreign access".

The CEO said that some legacy data is stored in Virginia and Singapore, adding that he expected the Singapore-based data would be deleted this year.

TikTok hired Zenia Mucha in June as chief brand and communications officer, responsible for TikTok's global marketing and communications strategies. Mucha is a former Disney communications head.

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