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U.S. House blocks TikTok on official devices ahead of government ban

A separate bipartisan bill that was introduced in Congress on Dec. 13 would ban the TikTok app for everyone in the United States. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

TikTok has been banned from all U.S. House of Representatives-managed devices, according to the House’s administrative arm, ahead of a new government-wide ban of the popular Chinese-owned video app that will soon take effect.

The House’s chief administrative officer cited “high risk” security concerns in a memo that ordered lawmakers and staffers on Tuesday to delete the app from government devices, according to a copy of the memo obtained by The Washington Post. Under the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by the House on Friday, all employees of the federal government will be barred from installing or must delete TikTok, which is owned by the Beijing-based tech giant ByteDance, in the latest government measure to limit the app’s use in the public sector. Several Republican governors have banned the app on their governments’ electronic devices.

Reuters was first to report news of the ban.

A separate bipartisan bill that was introduced in Congress on Dec. 13 would ban the app for everyone in the United States.

Sweeping spending bill would ban TikTok on government devices

The barring of TikTok from government mobile devices — which will barely scratch the surface of TikTok’s global reach of more than 1 billion users — comes after the app was banned from official devices at the White House, in most branches of the military and in several federal agencies, including the Homeland Security and State departments.

But people who work for the government still can use TikTok on their personal devices — as the social media app widely popularized during the coronavirus pandemic has reshaped culture, altered how the digital world operates and birthed a new language. There are more than 100 million TikTok users in the United States, roughly a third of the country’s residents.

Perspective: Those government TikTok ‘bans’ hardly ban anything

The political crackdown on TikTok arises from concerns that the app could be used by Beijing to spy on or influence Americans. Skepticism toward China pushed by Republicans has gained bipartisan traction after news about TikTok’s security practices. On Thursday, TikTok fired four employees after an internal investigation found that the workers had tracked two American journalists and their associates to see if they had been in contact with ByteDance employees.

TikTok previously called the imminent government-wide ban a “political gesture that will do nothing to advance national security interests.”

“We’re disappointed that Congress has moved to ban TikTok on government devices … rather than encouraging the administration to conclude its national security review,” TikTok spokeswoman Brooke Oberwetter previously told The Post. The company is implementing a data-security plan and is briefing lawmakers on its proposal, Oberwetter said.

The ban will take effect once President Biden signs the legislation.

This month, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to comment on a federal ban on TikTok, citing an ongoing review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a secretive committee that oversees foreign companies that has been in negotiations with TikTok since 2019.

“Generally speaking, the Biden administration is focused on the challenge of certain countries, including China, seeking to leverage digital technologies and America’s data in ways that present unacceptable national security risk,” Jean-Pierre said.

The Post previously reported that TikTok had agreed with the committee to sever decision-making over its U.S. operations from its Chinese headquarters. The company will give U.S. authorities the power to veto appointments for the company’s three-member board and top executives and set hiring standards, according to four people with knowledge of the discussions who spoke to The Post on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the conversations.

The tentative framework, the four people said, would prevent U.S. user data from being accessed by Chinese government officials or ByteDance employees in Beijing. Third-party monitors approved by the U.S. government would audit the platform’s recommendation algorithms and content-moderation systems to help prevent any foreign influence in the videos people see, the people said. The committee has yet to approve that plan.

“This is a comprehensive package of measures with layers of government and independent oversight to address concerns about TikTok content recommendation and access to U.S. user data — measures well beyond what any peer company is doing today,” Oberwetter told The Post.

Drew Harwell, Julian Mark and Eugene Scott contributed to this report.

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