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Calif. county bans TikTok from government-issued devices over security, data collection concerns

Orange County decision affects devices used by over 18,000 employees, except as necessary for law enforcement purposes


A similar prohibition was applied at the federal level last month.

By Sara Cardine
Daily Pilot, Costa Mesa

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — Citing heightened concerns about online security and data collection, the Orange County Board of Supervisors declared Tuesday county employees will no longer be able to download, view or use the social media platform TikTok on government-issued devices.

Panelists unanimously approved the ban, proposed jointly by Vice Chair Andrew Do and Sheriff Don Barnes as a means of mitigating security risks associated with the online app.

A similar prohibition was applied at the federal level last month, following guidance provided by a “No TikTok on Government Devices Act,” passed by Congress in December.

“The particular platform TikTok has vulnerabilities that exist within it, and those vulnerabilities can be exploited by the parent company in ways that put users and our national security at risk,” Barnes said in an interview Tuesday.

Barnes explained how the app’s owner, ByteDance Ltd. collects users ' personal data, building profiles based on an individual’s viewing history, habits and even geographic locations and may tailor or manipulate the content that person sees — a potentially troubling trend, he said, given the company’s relationship with the Chinese government.

“We have recognized the inherent risk of the way the TikTok social media platform operates and how [its ] content can be misused by the parent company or the Chinese Communist Party against the best intentions of the American people, " Barnes said.

Tuesday’s decision amends the county’s current information technology and social media use policies to apply the prohibition to company cellphones, laptops and desktop computers used by more than 18, 000 Orange County employees, except as necessary for law enforcement purposes.

IT practices employed at the sheriff’s department allow for the blocking of new uploads, although it is unclear whether devices on which TikTok has already been installed will be automatically disabled following the policy shift.

Do, who was unable to vote on the proposed amendment Tuesday, due to illness, issued a joint statement with Barnes in which he described the move as an important step in securing county data and information from potential hacking by the Chinese government.

“We are taking proactive steps to ensure the County of Orange is following best security practices to protect our county and the residents we serve, " stated Do, who represents District 1.

The statement described how China’s government, under the guise of national security, could legally force domestic companies like ByteDance to hand over private user data to authorities without a warrant. That information could then be used “to identify, arrest and persecute political opponents, religious groups, ethnic minorities and social activists.”

Supervisor Katrina Foley, whose 5th District includes Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Laguna Beach, said Tuesday officials have become increasingly aware of the risks platforms like TikTok present for government agencies.

“There ‘s a growing concern by our national security adviser about the threat that data is being collected about individuals living in America and is possibly being used by the Chinese government,” she said. "[And here], every department uses social media to share information with the public. In this day and age, it’s better to err on the side of caution.”

Barnes said while the ban approved Tuesday impacts only devices owned and operated by the county, he hopes to spread a wider awareness among residents of the need to be careful about their private data and social media use.

“I also encourage the public, particularly parents, to consider the potential for compromised data and negative influence on users and take action to secure your personal devices,” he said.

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