New York City Takes Action to Address Security Concerns Surrounding TikTok. In a bid to mitigate potential security risks stemming from China, New York City has become the latest governmental entity to enact stringent regulations prohibiting the use of TikTok.
According to a report by The Verge, the newly imposed ban is immediately in effect and mandates that all government agencies uninstall the TikTok app from city-owned devices within the next 30 days. This decision comes on the recommendation of the NYC Cyber Command, a division specializing in cyber threats under the purview of the NYC Office of Technology and Innovation. The move follows a comprehensive security review conducted by the Cyber Command.
The state of New York had previously instituted its own prohibition against the use of TikTok on government devices in 2020. Several other states, including New Jersey, Ohio, Texas, and Georgia, have also taken similar measures in recent years.
In December, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution prohibiting the use of TikTok on government-owned devices. Subsequently, the Biden administration intensified its pressure campaign against the popular app, seeking to compel TikTok to sever its ties with Chinese ownership.
In a significant development, TikTok’s CEO, Shou Zi Chew, appeared before Congress in March, subjecting himself to a five-hour interrogation by lawmakers. This session revolved around concerns that China could exploit the app to compromise national security. It is important to note that TikTok is operated by the Chinese technology giant ByteDance, setting it apart from other prominent social media platforms headquartered in the United States.
Chew firmly stated in his opening remarks, “Let me unequivocally state that ByteDance is not acting as an agent for China or any other nation.”
In May, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte ratified a law stipulating that TikTok would be prohibited in the state starting from 2024. Distinguishing itself from earlier bans limited to government-issued devices, this Montana ban extends to the general public and would curtail regular users’ access to the app.
TikTok, in response, launched a legal battle aimed at maintaining the app’s availability for residents of Montana. Tech industry groups NetChoice and Chamber of Progress have now joined TikTok’s lawsuit against the ban. They argue that the ban disregards and undermines the fundamental structure and purpose of the internet, as it seeks to isolate Montanans from the global TikTok user network.
Furthermore, TikTok is also financially supporting a separate lawsuit initiated by creators who oppose the Montana ban. However, the company initially did not openly acknowledge its involvement in this lawsuit.
The justifications for TikTok bans in the U.S. and other regions frequently reference generalized security apprehensions tied to ByteDance, the parent company based in China. While there is no concrete evidence to date that Beijing has exploited the immensely popular app for espionage purposes, this potential threat cannot be entirely dismissed.
China exerts considerable influence over private enterprises operating within its borders. It is known to acquire stakes in private companies and shape their governance structures to wield decision-making influence. China has vehemently opposed any potential forced sale of TikTok, and given changes to export regulations in late 2020, it has the authority to block such an event.
Despite undertaking public relations initiatives in the U.S. and introducing modifications to its data storage practices, TikTok grapples with its own history of missteps. In the preceding year, TikTok acknowledged that ByteDance employees had tracked journalists’ IP addresses via the app in a bid to curtail internal leaks. The incident led to the termination of four ByteDance employees and remains a blemish on the company’s reputation as it seeks to foster trust with international regulatory bodies.
However, it is important to emphasize that these past lapses and TikTok’s Chinese ownership do not serve as definitive evidence of wrongdoing. China possesses alternative avenues for potential espionage against Americans and could potentially obtain comparable social media data, including extensive location information, from unscrupulous intermediaries that trade in app-related data. Furthermore, Chinese hackers have demonstrated their ability to breach security measures, as evidenced by their exploitation of vulnerabilities in Microsoft’s cloud email service earlier this year, which resulted in compromising numerous U.S. government accounts.