University of Wisconsin System bans TikTok use

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Published: Jan. 24, 2023 at 4:02 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — University of Wisconsin System officials said Tuesday that they will ban the use of TikTok on system devices.

System spokesman Mark Pitsch told The Associated Press about the move in email statements.

Nearly half of the states nationwide have blocked the popular social media app owned by a Chinese company. Earlier this month, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers banned the use of TikTok on Wisconsin state phones and other devices, citing potential risks to privacy, safety and security.

The order didn’t apply to the UW System, which employs 40,000 faculty and staff, because it isn’t an executive branch agency. UW-Madison, the system’s flagship school, has multiple TikTok accounts, including one for the women’s volleyball team. Universities often use TikTok accounts as a recruiting tool to connect with high school students.

A number of other universities across the country have banned TikTok in recent weeks, including Auburn, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa and Texas.

TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company that moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2020. It has been targeted by critics who say the Chinese government could access user data, such as browsing history and location. U.S. armed forces also have prohibited the app on military devices.

TikTok is consumed by two-thirds of American teens and has become the second-most popular domain in the world. But there has long been bipartisan concern in Washington that Beijing would use legal and regulatory power to seize American user data or try to push pro-China narratives or misinformation.

Here’s a look at the broader debate over TikTok:

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WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS ABOUT TIKTOK?

Both the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission have warned that TikTok user data could be shared by owner ByteDance Ltd. with China’s authoritarian government. U.S. officials also worry that the Chinese government might use TikTok to push pro-China narratives or misinformation.

Fears were stoked by news reports last year that a China-based team improperly accessed data of U.S. TikTok users, including two journalists, as part of a covert surveillance program to ferret out the source of leaks to the press.

There are also concerns that the company is sending masses of user data to China, in breach of stringent European privacy rules.

Additionally, there’s been concern about TikTok’s content and whether it harms teenagers’ mental health.

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WHO HAS PUSHED FOR RESTRICTIONS?

In 2020, then-President Donald Trump and his administration sought to ban dealings with TikTok’s owner, force it to sell off its U.S. assets and remove it from app stores. Courts blocked Trump’s efforts to ban TikTok, and President Joe Biden rescinded Trump’s orders after taking office but ordered an in-depth study of the issue. A planned sale of TikTok’s U.S. assets was shelved.

In Congress, concern about the app has been bipartisan. Congress last month banned TikTok from most U.S. government-issued devices over bipartisan concerns about security.

The Senate in December approved a version of the TikTok ban authored by conservative Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, a vocal critic of big tech companies.

But Democratic U.S. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, of Illinois has co-sponsored legislation to prohibit TikTok from operating in the U.S. altogether, and the measure approved by Congress in December had the support of Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

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WHAT DOES TIKTOK SAY?

“We’re disappointed that so many states are jumping on the political bandwagon to enact policies that will do nothing to advance cybersecurity in their states and are based on unfounded falsehoods about TikTok,” Jamal Brown, a spokesperson for TikTok, said in an emailed statement.

TikTok is developing security and data privacy plans as part of an ongoing national security review by President Joe Biden’s administration.