Michigan officials reviewing TikTok as threat to state devices – MLive.com

TikTok has become enormously popular, with about 1 billion monthly active users. A poll conducted by Pew Research in August found about two-thirds of U.S. teenagers use the app.
State cybersecurity officials are reviewing whether the social media app TikTok poses a security threat on Michigan government devices, a spokesperson confirmed to MLive Wednesday.
“Our security team is reviewing the threat that TikTok may pose,” Caleb Buhs, a spokesperson for the Department of Technology, Management, and Budget said in a statement Wednesday. “We receive information from federal security teams as part of a cybersecurity ecosystem that regularly shares threat information.”
The review comes as at least 19 states have banned the app, owned by a Chinese company, from at least some government devices, and the federal government is set to institute a similar ban via language included in a federal spending bill President Joe Biden is expected to sign before the end of the year.
Thursday, all seven Republicans in Michigan’s congressional delegation sent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer a letter urging her to ban TikTok from all state-funded devices, including smartphones issued to public university employees.
“This is not a partisan issue, but one of national security, and indeed the security and privacy of all Michiganders,” they wrote in the letter. “We implore you to protect Michigan employees and our educational institutions from the threat of (Chinese Communist Party) influence, data collection, and control.”
The letter also asks Whitmer to delete her office’s own TikTok account, BigGretchWhitmer, which has more than 175,000 followers and has received millions of views and likes from meme-savvy videos touting her record.
Whitmer hasn’t made any public statements about the platform. Late last week her office referred a request for comment to the Department of Technology, Management and Budget, which coordinates cybersecurity efforts for the state.
Then the department didn’t specify whether TikTok was under review and spoke about social media as an “important tool for communication.”
“Our team of cybersecurity professionals are continually reviewing new online platforms, like TikTok, and evaluating potential threats to the network to ensure that the information entrusted with us is protected and safe,” Buhs said last week.
Michigan U.S. Sen. Gary Peters chairs the homeland security committee that advanced the federal TikTok ban in May 2021 and has advocated for bolstering the country’s cybersecurity.
A Peters aide told MLive the Senator supported the ban and is “concerned about possible national security risks related to the app,” given the company’s opaque usage and sharing of user data, which has “reportedly included the Chinese government,” the aide said.
No concrete evidence has been presented that the app poses a national security threat, but policymakers’ concern about the app has grown alongside geopolitical tensions with China, where TikTok’s parent company ByteDance is headquartered. The Republican representatives employed more dramatic language in their letter to Whitmer, calling China an “adversarial nation.”
They claimed the ruling Chinese Communist party is engaging “efforts to exert their malign influence on our institutions of higher education” and suggest the use of TikTok in educational settings increases students’ “exposure to potential foreign influence operations” without citing any evidence that was occurring. They encourage Whitmer to also consider banning TikTok from even the personal devices of state employees.
The letter was signed by U.S. Reps.:
The platform has quickly gained enormous popularity among young Americans. Pew Research found in August nearly two-thirds of U.S. teenagers use the app, second only to YouTube, and 58% use TikTok daily, compared to 18% who reported daily Facebook use.
Instead of motivating users to search for content or connect with friends, TikTok’s primary form of engagement comes through user created video clips set to music, served up via an algorithm that curates an endless stream tailored to the viewer’s preferences in ways some have found eerily accurate.
The company has engaged in negotiations since 2019 with an obscure body called the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), Reuters reported, even as former president Donald Trump issued an executive order in 2020 to force ByteDance to sell TikTok.
President Joe Biden later revoked that order as ByteDance has reportedly moved closer to a deal. The deal would separate TikTok’s servers for U.S. users from those in China, have them operated by the tech company Oracle and overseen by an independent panel that would report to Committee on Foreign Investment. Reuters reported a number of national security officials still oppose the arrangement.
The company also has a recent record of making privacy claims that are later proven untrue. After claiming for years U.S. data remained stored solely in the U.S., it was reportedly found to have been accessed repeatedly by employees in China. Last week ByteDance fired four employees after it came to light the company had been tracking the location of at least two journalists through the app in an effort to tamp down on leaks, only after insisting they didn’t have the capability.
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