The popular social-media platform TikTok has been called “China’s Trojan horse” by Adonis Hoffman in The Hill. Hoffman added: “Download the app on your smartphone and you are connected to millions of viewers across the world – very simple.
“Download the app on your smartphone and you have given China access to all your data – very sinister.”
The United States has repeatedly voiced its cybersecurity concerns with the social media platform.
The platform, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, was investigated in 2019 by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US and senators asked the Director of National Intelligence for a review of TikTok’s practices.
While the company is not state-owned, in China the 2017 National Intelligence Law requires all citizens and businesses to assist in intelligence work which includes sharing data.
On Wednesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered agencies in the state to ban TikTok on government-issued devices over concerns the app shares user data with the Chinese government.
South Dakota, Maryland and Wisconsin have also given similar declarations about the app, citing the same concerns.
One letter sent by Mr Abbott to state agency leaders said: “TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users’ devices – inclusing when, where and how they conduct Internet activity – and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government.
“While Tiktok has claimed that it stores US data within the US, the company admitted in a letter to Congress that China-based employees can have access to US data.
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“It has also been reported that ByteDance planned to use TikTok location information to surveil individual American citizens.”
The letter also made note of China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law and TikTok’s algorithm which censored politically sensitive topics to the Chinese Community Party which includes the Tiananmen Square protests.
Meanwhile, Indiana’s Attorney General Todd Rokita complained of the “salacious and inappropriate content” on the app which is available to children aged 13 and over “for unlimited periods of time, day and night, in an effort to line TikTok’s pockets with billions of dollars from US consumers”.
Alongside a ban, Rokita sued the app for misleading its users about the level of inappropriate content available on the app and the security of user information.
Mr Abbott’s step followed that of Maryland governor Larry Hogan who ordered a TikTok ban on Tuesday alongside a number of other Chinese and Russian-based platforms in the government.
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Mr Hogan said: “There may be no greater threat to our personal safety and our national security than the cyber vulnerabilities that support our daily lives.
“To further protect our systems, we are issuing this emergency directive against foreign actors and organisations that seek to weaken and divide us.”
Meanwhile, Republican representatives from Wisconsin called on Tony Evers in Congress to delete the app from all government-issued devices, citing it a national security threat.
TikTok responded to the barrage of criticism and bans, saying there were “largely fuelled by misinformation about our company”.
TikTok spokesperson Jamal Brown told the Associated Press: “We are always happy to meet with state policymakers to discuss our privacy and security practices.
“We are disappointed that the many state agencies, offices, and universities that have been using TikTok to build communities and connect with constituents will no longer have access to our platform.”