Wisconsin’s governor bans popular TikTok app from state phones

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MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin on Thursday became the latest state to ban the use of TikTok on state phones and other devices, a move that comes after nearly half of states nationwide blocked the popular social media app owned by a Chinese company.

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers ordered the ban after he said he consulted with the FBI and emergency management officials. He cited potential risks to privacy, safety and security. Evers’ order applies to most government agencies, with some exceptions like criminal investigators who may use the app to track specific individuals.

“Defending our state’s technology and cybersecurity infrastructure and protecting digital privacy will remain a top priority,” Evers tweeted when announcing the ban.

The University of Wisconsin System, which employs 40,000 faculty and staff, is also exempt. But UW Systems spokesman Mark Pitsch said despite the exception, the university was conducting a review and moving toward placing restrictions on the app’s use on devices to protect against serious cybersecurity risks.

UW has several official TikTok accounts, including one for the women’s volleyball team, which has more than 41,000 followers. Universities often use TikTok accounts as a recruiting tool to connect with high school students.

The ban will be enforced by the state’s technology department, which already restricts what apps state employees can access on their government phones.

Only about 12 government phones have TikTok on them, according to Evers.

Evers doesn’t have a personal or official TikTok account himself, but he did have an account supporting his re-election campaign earlier this year. His office has said the account was not used on any government-issued devices.

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. US armed forces have also banned the app on military units.

TikTok is consumed by two-thirds of American teenagers 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 powers to seize US user data or try to push pro-China narratives or disinformation.

Fears were sparked by news reports last year that a China-based team improperly accessed the data of American TikTok users, including two journalists, as part of a secret surveillance program to find out the source of leaks to the press.

There are also concerns that the company is sending lots of user data to China, in violation of strict European privacy rules.

“We are disappointed that so many states are jumping on the political bandwagon to enact policies that will do nothing to promote cybersecurity in their states and are based on baseless lies about TikTok,” said Jamal Brown, a spokesman for TikTok, in an email. announcement.

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

At least 20 other states, including Mississippi, Indiana, Louisiana and South Dakota, have imposed bans on the use of TikTok on public entities. Congress last month banned TikTok from most US government-issued devices due to bipartisan concerns about security.

The Wisconsin ban comes after Republican members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher, urged Evers to ban the app, citing their concerns that the Chinese government could use TikTok to spy on users and spread propaganda.

Gallagher and Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida introduced a bipartisan bill in December to ban TikTok from operating in the United States. Gallagher this week became chairman of a new House committee created with broad bipartisan support to examine “strategic competition” between the United States and China.

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