Why some major Texas universities are blocking TikTok access on internet networks

The moves followed a directive from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last month.

January 18, 2023, 11:23 AM

A host of major Texas universities announced overnight that they have banned TikTok from government-issued devices and restricted access to the social media app on their internet networks.

The University of Texas at Austin, one of the nation's largest college campuses, said on Tuesday that it has banned TikTok from its networks and begun to remove the China-owned app from government-issued devices over concerns about data privacy.

The move aims to bring the campus into compliance with a directive from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott last month that called on state agencies to eliminate the cybersecurity risks posed by TikTok, Jeff Nyland, adviser to the president for technology strategy, said in a message to students.

"The university is taking these important steps to eliminate risks to information contained in the university's network and to our critical infrastructure," Nyland said.

The University of Texas at Dallas, a separate campus, said in a message to students on Tuesday that it began removing TikTok from university-owned devices last month and would take the additional step of blocking access to TikTok on its Wi-Fi network.

Another major Texas-based university, Texas A&M, told ABC News on Wednesday that it has taken similar steps to restrict access to TikTok. The university has blocked access to the social media app on state-owned devices and is in the process of restricting access to the app on its Wi-Fi network, a spokesperson said.

TikTok has faced growing scrutiny from state and federal officials over fears that American data could fall into the possession of the Chinese government.

More than half of U.S. states have taken steps toward a partial or full ban of TikTok on government devices.

In this photo illustration, a TikTok App Logo is displayed on a mobile phone.
SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Biden administration and TikTok wrote up a preliminary agreement to address national security concerns posed by the app but obstacles remain in the negotiations, The New York Times reported in September.

TikTok says that it stores the data of U.S. users outside of China, and has never removed U.S. posts from the platform at the request of the Chinese government.

In a statement in response to a ban from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan last month, TikTok told ABC News: "We believe the concerns driving these decisions are largely fueled by misinformation about our company. We are happy to continue having constructive meetings with state policymakers to discuss our privacy and security practices. We are disappointed that many state agencies, offices, and universities will no longer be able to use TikTok to build communities and connect with constituents."

Recent news stories have called into question the security of user data.

Buzzfeed reported in June that TikTok engineers based in China gained access to intimate information on U.S. users, such as phone numbers. Forbes reported in October that ByteDance, TikTok's parent company, intended to use the app to access information on some users.

The Trump administration tried to ban TikTok in 2020, eventually calling on ByteDance to sell the app to a U.S. company. However, the sale never took place.

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