Numerous states across the nation have placed bans on the use of TikTok on government devices, according to USA Today. In states such as Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia, for example, colleges are limiting access to TikTok. Indiana is one of the states that has blocked TikTok from state-owned devices as of Dec. 7, 2022, according to WTHR.
These bans in part stem from U.S. legislators’ concerns that ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, is based in China, according to USA Today, and could share the information it is gathering from American users with the Chinese government, according to a recent article by Time.
University of Indianapolis freshman psychology major Elyssa Merrill said the bans will not be successful in limiting the use of TikTok on college campuses because they will serve as an inconvenience for students.
“Some things would get altered, but because a lot of people can use cellular data or their own personal devices, it wouldn’t affect the mass population at all,” Merrill said.
According to UIndy Interim Chief Technology Officer for Information Technology Matthew Wilson, there is
a valid concern regarding what ByteDance can do with users’ information.
“Certainly all social media companies are collecting [personal] data, and they’re all bound by the jurisdictions in which they’re operating, but the fact that ByteDance is headquartered in China makes them subject to Chinese laws, and China is notorious for being very involved and having oversights for those sorts of companies,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that the main difference between the information that other social media platforms collect and the information that TikTok can collect is the due process laws in the U.S., where other social media companies are based [such as Meta.] Due process laws in China do less to prohibit the government from accessing user information, Wilson said. According to Ballotpedia, substantive due process in the U.S. outlines the restrictions on the government’s ability to infringe upon constitutional liberties regarding privacy such as “personal autonomy, bodily integrity, self-dignity and self-determination.” Wilson also said there is a risk in using a platform that is based in China because the Chinese government has different due process laws than those in the United States.
Wilson said that although Indiana has a statewide ban on TikTok that applies to state-owned devices and government technology systems, UIndy will not be affected by this ban because it is a private institution. As of press time, no colleges or universities in Indiana–public or private–have announced a campus Wi-Fi ban on TikTok. However, according to WFYI, Purdue University deleted its official TikTok account in December and “notified all colleges and departments within the university that they must follow suit.” WFYI also reported that Purdue is still “considering further action beyond simply deleting TikTok accounts,” in reference to blocking the app on university networks.
“About 50% of U.S. states have now banned TikTok for state-owned devices and some universities have interpreted it as also applying to university-owned devices and networks. Now, that only applies to state-run institutions, and the University of Indianapolis is a private institution. As there is [a ban on TikTok in the government] in Indiana now, it would not apply to the University of Indianapolis,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that for students who are concerned about potential information gathering by ByteDance, closing their TikTok account is always an option.
“The kind of things that they’re collecting are anything that you’ve ever searched, anything that you’ve watched [and] any content that you’ve engaged with. That kind of stuff can be used to put together a profile of what you’re interested in, and so if that is ever a concern for you, then I would recommend closing your TikTok account immediately,” Wilson said.
Merrill said that they think it is unfortunate that the ban is affecting colleges that are following suit with their state legislators out of fear that they could lose public funding. They also said that there are students who make money from posting on the app who will not be able to do so anymore because of the bans in place at their universities.
“I think that it’s a real shame that…some colleges are only doing it out of the fear that because their state legislators are banning [TikTok]. [Some colleges fear] they could get fined or lose public funding because of the lack of support they’re giving [compliance with the government],” Merrill said.
Merrill also said that there are students who become popular on TikTok by posting about their university, and that by their schools banning TikTok on campus, their schools are taking away those students’ source of income.
“I think a little bit of it [government and universities’ reactions] might be blown out of proportion, but there is
some risk from a national standpoint,” Wilson said. “I think there is a valid risk there.”