Senators Want to Ban TikTok From Government Devices for All Federal Employees

Departments of State, Homeland Security and Defense already forbid the video creation app

The two lawmakers cited cybersecurity concerns, as well as potential spying by the Chinese government. Photo Illustration: Trent Joaquin; Source: Getty Images, TikTok
Headshot of David Cohen

TikTok has already been banned on federal government devices by the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, and two U.S. senators are now looking to extend that prohibition.

Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.) introduced a bill Thursday that would ban use of the video creation application by all federal employees on government-issued devices.

A TikTok spokesman said in an emailed statement, “While we think the concerns are unfounded, we understand them and are continuing to further strengthen our safeguards while increasing our dialogue with lawmakers to help explain our policies. We also recently announced a Transparency Center in Los Angeles, which will give third-party experts insight into our source code and our efforts around data privacy, security and moderation practices.”

The two lawmakers cited cybersecurity concerns, as well as potential spying by the Chinese government. There are roughly 2 million federal employees.

TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance, is based in China, and the bill also covers any entities owned by or successor apps developed by that company.

Hawley said in a release, “TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that includes Chinese Communist Party members on its board, and it is required by law to share user data with Beijing. The company even admitted that it collects user data while its app is running in the background—including the messages people send, pictures they share, their keystrokes and location data, you name it. As many of our federal agencies have already recognized, TikTok is a major security risk to the U.S., and it has no place on government devices.”

The legislation provides exceptions for investigations, cybersecurity research activity, enforcement actions, disciplinary actions and intelligence activity.

Scott said in a release, “The use of apps like TikTok by federal employees on government devices is a risk to our networks and a threat to our national security, and I’m proud to join Sen. Hawley to put an end to it. We should all be very concerned about the threat of Communist China, and I hope my colleagues will join me to implement this ban immediately and protect our national security.”

TikTok introduced a lengthy update to its terms of service in January, covering topics including harmful content, illegal activities, protecting minors on its platform and preventing misleading information.

Earlier that month, it released its first-ever transparency report, saying that it received 298 legal requests for information from 28 countries over the first half of 2019, led by India (99), the U.S. (68) and Japan (28), with no other country reaching double-figures.

TikTok said last October that it would not allow political ads on its platform, with vice president of global business solutions Blake Chandlee saying at the time, “The nature of paid political ads is not something we believe fits the TikTok platform experience.”

ByteDance was hit with a $5.7 million fine by the Federal Trade Commission last February for violations by its predecessor, Musical.ly, which ByteDance acquired in November 2017 and shuttered in August 2018.

The FTC alleged that Musical.ly violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) by collecting personal information from children under 13 without parental consent.


david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.