Texas Gov. Greg Abbott bans TikTok on government-owned devices, citing concern about potential Chinese threat

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a 'Get Out The Vote' rally at the Fuzzy's Pizza & Italian Cafe on October 27, 2022 in Katy, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images) (BRANDON BELL, 2022 Getty Images)

HOUSTON – Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said on Wednesday that he’s banned the use of the social media platform TikTok on any government-issued devices as he claims the “threat of the Chinese Communist Party gaining access to critical U.S. information and infrastructure continues to grow.”

In a news release, Abbott’s office said in letters to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Speaker Dade Phelan, and state agency leaders, Abbott highlighted the State of Texas’ responsibility to preserve the safety and cybersecurity of Texans, in addition to the federal government’s responsibility for foreign policy issues.

“TikTok harvests vast amounts of data from its users’ devices—including when, where, and how they conduct Internet activity—and offers this trove of potentially sensitive information to the Chinese government,” reads one of the letters. “While TikTok has claimed that it stores U.S. data within the U.S., the company admitted in a letter to Congress that China-based employees can have access to U.S. data. It has also been reported that ByteDance planned to use TikTok location information to surveil individual American citizens. Further, under China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, all businesses are required to assist China in intelligence work including data sharing, and TikTok’s algorithm has already censored topics politically sensitive to the Chinese Communist Party, including the Tiananmen Square protests.”

Abbott’s news release claimed further, “With more than 85 million users in the United States, the video-sharing mobile application TikTok is owned by a Chinese company that employs Chinese Communist Party members and has a subsidiary partially owned by the Chinese Communist Party.”

TikTok has denied that it uses location information to track U.S. users.

A CNBC report notes it all comes after an October Forbes report alleged TikTok planned to use its app “to monitor the personal location of some specific American citizens,” citing materials viewed by the publication.

“TikTok does not collect precise GPS location information from U.S. users, meaning TikTok could not monitor US users in the way the article suggested,” the company said.

Abbott’s news release said the governor directed state agency leaders to immediately ban its officers and employees from downloading or using TikTok on any government-issued devices, including cell phones, laptops, tablets, desktop computers, and other devices capable of Internet connectivity, which is to be strictly enforced by an agency’s IT department. The governor also ordered direct joint action by the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Department of Information Resources to develop a model plan for other state agencies that would address vulnerabilities presented by the use of TikTok on personal devices by Jan. 15, 2023. Each state agency will then have until Feb. 15, 2023, to implement its own policy governing the use of TikTok on personal devices.

Additionally, the governor informed Patrick and Phelan that the Executive Branch stands ready to assist in codifying and implementing any necessary cybersecurity reforms when the 88th Texas Legislature convenes next year, including passing legislation to make permanent the governor’s directive to state agencies.

Here are Abbott’s letters to legislative leadership and state agency leaders.

About the Author:

Amanda Cochran is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist. She specializes in Texas features, consumer and business news and local crime coverage.