The Transportation Safety Authority (TSA) has become the latest federal agency to ban the use of TikTok among its employees based on national-security fears over how ByteDance, the Beijing-based company that owns the app, uses the data collected by it.
Some TSA employees have used the app to create and post videos that explain the agency’s boarding processes and rules, a move that raised security concerns and inspired Sen. Chuck Schumer to send TSA administrator David Pekoske a letter to stop its use, according to a report from CBS News.
Schumer’s letter cited national security concerns about how TikTok collects and handles user data and personal information, as well as a Department of Homeland Security policy that already prohibits the use of TikTok on agency devices, according to the report. Two branches of the U.S. military–the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy–also have banned its use among their personnel.Schumer also noted in his letter that Chinese laws compel companies to cooperate with China’s government and intelligence collection, according to The Associated Press. China’s state sponsorship of cyber attacks against U.S. entities is widely known, and officials fear that the Chinese government may use data from TikTok as a part of this agenda.
Indeed, ByteDance already has a reported cozy relationship with China’s government through strategic partnerships the company has in place with Communist Party of China-supported ventures in Beijing and Shanghai.
“Given the widely reported threats, the already-in-place agency bans, and the existing concerns posed by TikTok, the feds cannot continue to allow the TSA’s use of the platform to fly,” Sen. Schumer told the AP.
The TSA acknowledged that a “small number of TSA employees” used the app on personal devices to create videos as a part of the TSA’s social-media outreach, a practice that has now been halted, according to the AP.
TikTok is used to create and share short form videos and has been downloaded more than 1.5 billion times. The app is especially popular among the tween set and celebrities, who use it to record videos of themselves performing coordinated dance moves that they send to others in their social network.
The U.S. government has major concerns over TikTok’s parent company and its security practices, so much so that several months ago the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States launched a national security review of the app. The government is particularly concerned that the Chinese government could misuse the user data it collects via the app, which includes IP addresses, location and information about devices.
Officials also are worried about TikTok’s censorship of any content critical of China, such as videos that included content about the widespread protests in Hong Kong that took place last year.
While TikTok is not available in China, it is extremely popular in the United States, so much so that ByteDance said that it was seeking to hire an American CEO based in Washington, DC, in an effort to ease concerns over the app’s use, according to Washington Post reporter Tonya Riley.
Even if ByteDance can convince U.S. lawmakers that TikTok is not a national security threat, the app has other security issues to contend with. A recent report from security researchers discovered numerous security flaws in the app that could allow for partial account takeover and information exposure.