By Logan Whitcomb
For years, popular video-sharing social media app TikTok has faced significant criticism from national security officials and politicians on both sides of the aisle.
The Chinese Communist Party has full oversight, access to, and authority over TikTok’s parent company, ByteDance; and the TikTok app has been identified by cyber experts as a likely data harvesting tool that presents a major threat to the privacy and safety of its users.
Within the past several weeks, several prominent universities throughout the country, including Texas A&M University, Auburn University, Florida University, Boise State University, Arkansas State University, and others, have taken action to restrict access to the app on their networks and ban it from being installed on school-owned devices.
Many students have taken to other social media apps to complain about the inconvenience this move has caused for their daily scrolling routines. However, those who are more familiar with TikTok and its severe privacy risks are less eager to criticize the bans.
Cyber security expert Eyal Gallico told an Arkansas local news station that the information TikTok has access to is vast, which could have incredibly serious consequences: “The biggest fear with TikTok is they are behind the scenes accessing this information that contains all your life,” said Gallico. “You have your credit card number, your cell phone number, your geolocation, your privacy settings”
Another expert on the matter, Jeff Neyland, who serves as the University of Texas-Austin’s advisor to the president for technology strategy, expressed similar concerns. “TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users’ devices — including when, where and how they conduct internet activity — and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government,” he wrote in a blog post.
With these concerns in mind, hundreds of universities across the country still must consider their courses of action or lack thereof. It remains to be seen whether or not similar bans will be enacted on local, state, or national levels.