In 2020 data security and privacy concerns led the US Military, India, and other government entities to ban TikTok.
Fortunately for the average US citizen, the Biden government reversed former President Trump’s executive order to ban TikTok in the US in June of 2021.
But for employers with privacy, security, company reputation, and productivity concerns there may be desired to prevent employees from using TikTok at work.
In this article, you will learn how to block TikTok on both mobile devices and computers, why TikTok was banned, whether or not TikTok is safe to use, and how TikTok has responded to the controversy.Table of Contents
TikTok is a video-sharing social media app owned by ByteDance, a Chinese internet technology company. Users of the app film vertical short-form videos ranging from dances, lip-syncing, comedy skits, and other creative clips.
According to a report from Sensor Tower, as of February 2020 TikTok had been downloaded nearly 2 billion times since its launch in 2012. ByteDance also operates a China-exclusive version of TikTok known as Douyin.
TikTok’s main feature is its For You Page, which is an algorithm-driven feed of curated content that is unique to each user of the app. The TikTok algorithm studies each users’ engagement patterns (likes, shares, watch time, comments, etc) to understand what content they are most interested in so it can serve them relevant content.
There’s no doubt that TikTok is used in the workplace by employees. Viral videos of employees performing dances and comedy skits while in uniform or sharing insights into their day-to-day work life are quite popular on the app.
Whether or not you decide to enforce a ban of the app on company-provided devices will depend on a few factors
Should you block employees from accessing TikTok in the workplace?
For employers that would like to follow suit with India and the US military, there are ways of enforcing the ban of TikTok on company-provided devices.
These very same practices will apply when you decide to block any other potentially dangerous applications and block websites in the workplace.
If you don’t have a web filter installed on your company computers, your users will have unrestricted access to TikTok at work. With BrowseControl you can block TikTok in the workplace to prevent employees from browsing the social media platform on company computers.
Instructions for Blocking TikTok With BrowseControl Web Filter:
Examples of domains used by TikTok:
While there is a browser-based version of TikTok, it is primarily a social media app.
Any company that wants to prevent their employees from using TikTok on company devices needs to have a Mobile Device Management (MDM) solution in place.
Apple devices (iPhone/iPad) use enrollment profiles, configuration profiles, and payloads for MDM purposes. Users can enroll their own devices in MDM, and organization-owned devices can be enrolled in MDM automatically using Apple School Manager or Apple Business Manager.
Companies with Android users will also require an MDM solution to control what apps can and cannot be used on company devices.
Individual consumers can use mobile app blockers found in the app store for their respective manufacturers.
Bans of the popular social media platform amid privacy and security concerns were on the rise, with India’s banning being a high-profile example.
While a ban was not considered in Europe, in June 2020, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) announced that it would assembling a task force to examine TikTok’s user privacy and security practices; this came to be named the “TikTok Task Force”.
This is the goal of the task force, according to a letter released by the EDPB in February 2021:
“…to enable its members to exchange information regarding any enforcement proceedings relating to TikTok’s compliance with the GDPR undertaken by the participating authorities. The EDPB is not conducting on its own any enforcement action, as this does not fall within its remit.”
There were growing concerns about data collection through TikTok such as facial recognition, location data, and A.I. based image scanning can be used for nefarious purposes should Bytedance be compelled to share that data with the Chinese government.
These concerns led some to wonder if TikTok is less of a social media app and more of a remote spying software to surveil foreign citizens.
US senators and data privacy advocates alike were concerned that the quantity of data collected by TikTok could potentially be shared with the Chinese government due to China’s history of data collection, monitoring the online activity of their citizens, and internet censorship (the “Great Firewall of China”).
Due to the National Intelligence Law of the People’s Republic of China there were concerns that TikTok could be compelled to share user data with the Chinese government.
At the Social 2030 conference, it was revealed that Reddit’s CEO Steve Huffman considers the app to be remote spy software, with him stating “I actively tell people, ‘Don’t install that spyware on your phone’” and that he thinks that the app is “fundamentally parasitic”.
“I look at that app as so fundamentally parasitic, that it’s always listening, the fingerprinting technology they use is truly terrifying, and I could not bring myself to install an app like that on my phone”Steve Huffman, Reddit CEO
After the attempted bannings called the security and privacy practices of TikTok into question, there have been several cybersecurity research projects dedicated to reverse engineering and studying the app.
At the start of the controversy, TikTok released a statement clarifying their user data collection and sharing practices.
Where TikTok stores it’s US user data & it’s stance on Chinese law:
“We store all TikTok US user data in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore. Our data centers are located entirely outside of China, and none of our data is subject to Chinese law. Further, we have a dedicated technical team focused on adhering to robust cybersecurity policies, and data privacy and security practices.
TikTok’s stance on censorship and providing information to the Chinese government:
“TikTok does not remove content based on sensitivities related to China. We have never been asked by the Chinese government to remove any content and we would not do so if asked. Period. Our US moderation team, which is led out of California, reviews content for adherence to our US policies – just like other US companies in our space. We are not influenced by any foreign government, including the Chinese government; TikTok does not operate in China, nor do we have any intention of doing so in the future.”
Based on the data that TikTok claims to collect, it is in par with other social media apps in terms of the data it collects about its users, their usage habits, and their devices.
“TikTok is essentially malware that is targeting children”Statement by Reddit user bangorlol after reverse-engineering TikTok to see the data it collects from its users
However, a crowd-sourced team of software engineers and cybersecurity community members have been actively reverse engineering the app to learn more about what the app is collecting. Much of the findings have come from a Reddit user by the name of bangorlol. Here are the highlights of his reddit comment:
“TikTok is a data collection service that is thinly-veiled as a social network. If there is an API to get information on you, your contacts, or your device… well, they’re using it.
Since the initial controversies, TikTok has made an active effort to demonstrate its commitment to the security and privacy of its users.
The sheer amount of data collected by TikTok and the potential for them to be forced to share user data with the Chinese government has caused privacy and security concerns among federal governments.
The recent bans from India and the US military may only be the start of such policy changes, with other governments potentially following suit.
If you are concerned about the use of TikTok in the workplace you can block employee access to TikTok on company-provided devices using web filtering software for computers and a mobile device manager for smartphones.
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