By Rebecca Griesbach
Auburn University has begun to block TikTok on university WiFi and has warned employees not to install the app on school-issued phones and devices.
On Wednesday, Seth Humphrey, an IT manager of service delivery at Auburn University, sent a notice that TikTok users would not be able to access the app on university WiFi or on-campus housing.
The university last posted to TikTok on its official account on Dec. 2. It’s not clear what the memo might mean for popular university, athletics and influencer accounts across the state.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Monday issued a memo banning use of the app on government networks and devices, except for “essential government uses.” The ban, according to spokeswoman Gina Maiola, is directed to executive branch agencies. The executive branch, however, does have the authority to make security decisions for government-provided phones and networks, including at public universities.
Ivey called the app a “security threat from China.”
In compliance with new policies and the memorandum released from Governor Ivey, Auburn began blocking TikTok on the university network, including on-campus student housing, on Tuesday. Visit https://t.co/fL8EN3nMmP for more information and to view the official policy documents. pic.twitter.com/Wk2Qvu9QvF— Auburn University IT (@AuburnOIT) December 15, 2022
Several other states have banned TikTok for state employees and on state networks, including Maryland, South Carolina, South Dakota, Nebraska and Utah.
With more than one billion users, TikTok – owned by the Chinese company ByteDance – is one of the world’s most popular social networks. Since its inception in 2018, American lawmakers have been raising a number of concerns about the app’s security practices.
In 2019, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission fined ByteDance for collecting information from children under 13. In 2020, former President Donald Trump tried to outlaw the app, but was later struck down by federal courts.
In 2021, however, a federal judge did approve a $92 million class-action settlement after a lawsuit against the company alleged a range of data protection violations.
As tensions between the U.S. and Chinese tech companies have heightened, the app has also become the latest political flashpoint for American data privacy issues.
Last June, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew wrote a letter to nine U.S. senators and claimed the company was working on improving its security protocols. Chew said that, at that point, some China-based employees did have access to U.S. user data, subject to “robust cybersecurity controls.”
Ivey, in her memo on Monday, said the decision to ban the app on state devices was a “no brainer.”
“Look, I’m no TikTok user, but the evidence speaks for itself,” she said, “and I want to make sure I’m doing everything we can as a state to stand against this growing security risk.”