The US House of Representatives has ordered staff to delete TikTok from any House-issued mobile phones. The directive, reportedly issued by Catherine L Szpindor, the House’s chief administrative officer, also prohibits the popular social media app from being downloaded on House-issued devices in the future.
TikTok is considered a “high risk to users” by the CAO’s Office of Cybersecurity due to a lack of transparency regarding how its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, handles customer data. “House staff are NOT permitted to download the TikTok app on any House mobile device,” according to the memo. “You will be contacted to remove the TikTok app from your House mobile device.”
According to Brooke Oberwetter, a TikTok spokeswoman said to The Wall street Journal the the move was a political signal rather than a practical solution to security concerns, and the ban would have little impact because very few House-managed phones have TikTok installed.
The directive follows a series of other attempts to restrict TikTok use in the United States, fueled by concerns that the Chinese government could use the app to track and spy on Americans. TikTok is already prohibited on government-owned devices in 19 states due to security concerns, and the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress on December 23rd includes language prohibiting the app from being used on phones issued to employees of executive branch agencies, with exceptions for law enforcement, national security, and research purposes.
TikTok has long denied that its handling of user data is cause for concern, claiming that data from US users is not stored in China and is not shared with the Chinese government. The company promised to “meaningfully address any security concerns that have been raised at both the federal and state level” in a statement last week following Congress’s passing of the spending bill.
Many members of Congress are active on TikTok, and while House lawmakers and staffers are now required to delete the app, the Senate is exempt. Senators such as Marco Rubio (R-FL) have recently called for a nationwide ban on TikTok in the United States.
TikTok has its work cut out for it if it wants to persuade the US government that the platform is trustworthy. An internal investigation revealed on December 23rd that several ByteDance employees had accessed the TikTok data of US journalists, despite previously claiming that it was never used to target individuals such as members of the US government or journalists.