The White House on Monday set a 30-day clock ticking for government agencies to make sure Chinese-owned app TikTok is not loaded onto any federal devices and systems. The move comes as Congress gets set to enable a potential ban of the video sharing app nationwide.
The Office of Management and Budget ordered all federal agencies to eliminate the addictive video app from phones and computers and block internet traffic from reaching the company, Reuters exclusively reported, citing a memo sent out by OMB Director Shalanda Young.
U.S. agencies must also determine if any vendors that work with the government are using TikTok within three months, and by the end of four months, must include a prohibition on the app in all new deals with outside contractors, Reuters said, citing Young’s memo.
The moves reflect the concern that TikTok could be used to secretly collect information on U.S. government actions and to influence politics in the United States.
More than 210 million people in the U.S. have downloaded the app, with 62% of U.S. users age 29 or younger, according to ComScore.
ByteDance-owned TikTok has said the concerns are fueled by misinformation and has denied using the app to spy on Americans. The Chinese government owns a portion of ByteDance and a government official sits on its board of directors.
The U.S. is ratcheting up its efforts to circumvent any potential spying a day after ally Canada banned the video-sharing app from all government-issued mobile devices.
But while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he expects that the government ban will lead to “many Canadians from business to private individuals will reflect on the security of their own data and perhaps make choices,” the House Foreign Affairs Committee is slated to vote Tuesday on a bill that would give President Joe Biden the authority for an outright ban on TikTok in the U.S.
“My bill empowers the administration to ban TikTok or any software applications that threaten U.S. national security,” Representative Mike McCaul, the committee chair, told Reuters. “Anyone with TikTok downloaded on their device has given the (Chinese Communist Party) a backdoor to all their personal information. It’s a spy balloon into your phone.”
The ban on government device usage was ordered by Congress in December. The White House, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and the State Department had previously banned TikTok from devices linked to those agencies.
More than half of U.S. states have similarly disallowed use of the app on devices issued by their governments.
ByteDance CEO Shou Zi Chew is scheduled to testify before Congress on March 23. He is expected to discuss TikTok’s consumer privacy and data security practices, the platforms’ impact on kids, and the company’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.