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UT Austin blocks access to TikTok on university networks

The public university took the step in response to a directive that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued in early December. Abbott said the app posed security risks to the state.

Gabriel C. Pérez

People will no longer be able to access TikTok on UT Austin’s wired or WiFi networks starting Tuesday.

The university said it had taken this step to comply with a directive Gov. Greg Abbott issued last month. In a Dec. 7 letter to state agencies, the Republican governor said the app posed a security threat to Texas' information and critical infrastructure. He told the agencies to ban employees from downloading TikTok on any government-issued devices, including cellphones, laptops, tablets and desktop computers.

"As outlined in the governor's directive, 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," Jeff Neyland, UT's adviser to the president for technology strategy, wrote to UT staff and students.

The university’s decision to block the app on its networks is drawing mixed reactions from students.

Isabella Brogna, 20, was working on an extra credit assignment on campus Tuesday morning. The advertising major said she doesn't use TikTok, but has plenty of friends who do.

"Some of them think it's really funny and are like, ‘Go UT! Let's do it,'" she said. "And some of them are like 'No, what am I supposed to do between classes now?'"

Sofia Abello's roommate was one of those upset about the university's new policy.

"[She] came to our dorm and she was like, ‘Did you know they banned TikTok? Now I'm going to have to use cellular [data].'"

Abello, 18, said she thinks the policy might actually help her and her classmates focus more.

"There are some people that actually have a bit of an obsession with TikTok," said Abello, who made it her New Years' resolution to use the app less. "People tend to stop every 5 minutes and watch TikTok."

TikTok, which has tens of millions of users in the U.S., is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance Ltd. FBI Director Christopher Wray has raised national security concerns about the app. While speaking at the University of Michigan last month, he said the Chinese government could use it to collect data on American users and influence them.

"All of these things are in the hands of a government that doesn't share our values and that has a mission that is very much at odds with what's in the best interest of the United States," he said. "That should concern us."

President Joe Biden also OK’d a limited ban on TikTok when he signed a spending bill in late December. It prohibits federal government employees from using the app on agency-issued devices.

TikTok issued a statement that said it was disappointed with the government ban. The company also announced it has taken additional steps to protect private data from U.S. users.

Texas, according to a CNN analysis, is one of more than 30 states that have restricted access to TikTok on government devices. UT Austin, for its part, said banning TikTok would eliminate risks to the university's network and critical infrastructure.

UT is also working on a policy for employees' personal devices at the request of the governor. The university expects more guidance on whether to put restrictions on personal devices by Feb. 15.

Copyright 2023 KUT 90.5. To see more, visit KUT 90.5.
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