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Alaska follows other states, bans social media app TikTok from state-owned electronics


Alaska follows other states, bans social media app TikTok from state-owned electronics

Jan 06, 2023 | 8:42 pm ET
By James Brooks
Alaska follows other states, bans social media app TikTok from state-owned electronics
(Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Friday issued a memo banning the use of the China-based social media platform TikTok on state-issued devices, citing cybersecurity concerns.

“Simply put, TikTok poses a clear risk to any network or user it touches,” the memo said in part.

The decision follows similar action by almost 20 states and the federal government over concerns that data — including the location of users — collected by TikTok could be accessible by the Chinese government.

“Use of TikTok on state-owned electronic devices or on private devices that are connected to state networks poses a risk that a foreign government may access confidential or private data from state agencies and employees,” the memo states.

The memo calls for the ban to begin “effective immediately,” and if TikTok is already installed on a state-owned electronic device, it must be uninstalled. The memo does not restrict the use of TikTok by state workers on their personal devices.

The ban is expected to have limited effects here in Alaska. None of the state’s cabinet-level departments have TikTok accounts, and public safety investigators will still be able to use the program as they investigate cases.

“It’s not an avenue or platform that I think is heavily utilized (in Alaska),” said Sen.-elect Löki Tobin, D-Anchorage. 

Tobin has a personal account on TikTok and describes herself as a “lurker” there. She said she hasn’t found it to be a communication channel that many Alaskans use to get government information and doesn’t disagree with the ban.

The University of Alaska does have TikTok accounts, including one for the University of Alaska Fairbanks (followed by 806 people) and the University of Alaska Southeast (followed by 356), and a university spokeswoman said the agency will independently examine its TikTok use. To ensure academic independence, the university is managed by the board of regents, not the governor.

“The university and its many departments and colleges have used the TikTok platform in a variety of ways, and our students also engage on TikTok. While the university is governed by the Board of Regents, the governor’s announcement today raises legitimate security concerns,” said Roberta Graham, associate vice president of public affairs, in an email. 

“These same concerns about TikTok also have been raised at the federal level. The university believes it would be worthwhile and prudent to independently evaluate the use of TikTok on university devices and we will be doing so in the week ahead,” she said.

Congress voted to ban Tiktok from federally owned devices in December as part of the $1.7 trillion omnibus budget bill, and 17 states had already done so by that time. Since then, other states have followed suit, and more are expected: Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin announced on Friday that he will issue a ban in the coming days.

TikTok is wildly popular among young Americans, with an estimated 100 million users in the United States and more than 1 billion worldwide.

A summer 2022 survey conducted by Pew Research concluded that 26% of Americans between 18 and 29 regularly get news from the site, which features short video clips, frequently edited to include music and captions.

The platform’s growth has raised concerns because American officials believe the company shares data, including location information with the Chinese government, something the company denies.

In 2020, President Donald Trump attempted to ban the service from app stores run by Apple and Google unless the company was sold to an American operator, but that idea was struck down in federal court.

Since then, TikTok has used location data to track journalists investigating its parent company, and the head of the FBI told Congress in November that his agency has “national security concerns” about the platform.

Those concerns have contributed to a bipartisan push toward banning the platform.

Alaska Rep.-elect Genevieve Mina, D-Anchorage, used TikTok in her successful 2022 run for the state House and has a personal account.

After reading Dunleavy’s order, she said she’s of two minds about it. She said the ban makes sense from a cybersecurity standpoint.

“Given that there’s still a lot of opaqueness about how TikTok uses its data, I think from a public-sector government perspective, that it makes sense to err on the side of caution,” she said.

Mina, who was born in 1996, said that at the same time, “it’s undeniable that there are a lot of people that are around my age that are getting their information about what’s going on in the world through that platform.”

Even with a ban, government agencies can still communicate through Facebook, Twitter and other avenues.

“But there is a tension there,” she said.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify the relationship between the university and the governor.